Primrose’s mother is living with dementia. Primrose also chairs Alzheimer’s Australia Vic’s Consumer Advisory Committee. Primrose has shared her family’s story, during Dementia Awareness Month, to highlight the need for dementia-friendly travel spaces. #ItStartsWithYou
It was May 2000 and Mum had just arrived at Belgrade airport. This was an important trip back to her home country, to visit her family (and her own mother’s grave site) in a small peasant village 76kms east of Belgrade, in Serbia. Mum had last been there in 1982 (almost ten years after her own mother had died after living with dementia). In 1973, dementia was a little known and undiagnosed condition. Towards the end of her mother’s life, she had forgotten who her daughter was and would regularly wander away from the farm, while relatives and other villagers rounded up a search team.
We made our first Skype contact a few days after Mum arrived in Smederevo. This was the town she grew up in, after having left her village to start her high school education. Mum was staying with her nephew and his wife, Dana. Mum seemed a bit distant, which I put down to tiredness. I asked her about the arrival at the airport. She said that it had all gone well.
Dana then appeared on the screen. She was confused as to why Mum hadn’t packed any clothes with her. “What about looking in the large red suitcase?” I asked her. Dana replied, “What suitcase?” Mum had arrived at the airport and completely forgotten about her suitcase. She walked out of that airport with no prior memory that she had brought along a suitcase packed with clothes, photos and gifts!
In January, 2001, my mother was diagnosed with dementia. A diagnosis our family is still living with.
I feel strongly about improving travel or transport for individuals with dementia or mild cognitive impairment. This could be achieved by creating a dementia-friendly space for travellers at airports, bus stops or major train stations. This would have helped mum with her international travel in those early stages of her dementia.