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Fight or flight

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approaches to dementia care, arts and theatre, dementia awareness

Four years ago, it all changed. My Grandmother, Jasmin, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I always knew what dementia was, but I didn’t know the huge impact it would have on my family, especially me.

Someone once described me as ‘fiercely loyal and loving’; I can now see why that description is so fitting. I confronted Nan’s diagnosis as if it was my own: in life it’s about fight or flight and I fought.

Growing up I was the only Granddaughter and the youngest, so I did have a special relationship with Nan.  You could even say I was spoilt, but don’t tell the others that. Nan always supported me and encouraged what I wanted to do with my future. So when I went off to study Photography at University, Nan couldn’t have been prouder.  

I remembered being told. I was in my second year, and dad, my brother and I had just had dinner together and dad was dropping us home. People deal with news differently; my dad was quiet and anxious about the future, my brother seemed concerned about what she would forget and I thought about how the dynamics of the family would change and how could I help.

I began to see the changes in Nan; it started off slowly, a few confusions here and there but she was still living an independent life. She always enjoyed company, she had been on her own since my Grampy passed away in 2002, so she had made new groups of friends, started bowling, continued with her beloved gardening and had her little Micra to get around in. Nan lived in a lovely one bedroom flat underneath my Auntie’s house; she had a garden she could potter around in and family close by, so we all felt she was safe where she was.

As I entered my third and final year at University, I had thought a great deal about my final year project and what I wanted to concentrate on. I decided to focus my Photography on Nan and approach her Alzheimer’s from behind my lens.  What a better way to finish my degree than spending a year photographing a lady who taught me so much and gave an opportunity to learn more about the journey she was about to take.

The fight or flight response is a physiological response when we feel a strong emotion such as fear or love. I felt both when I first began my photographic journey, but Nan was the same person we all recognized and cared for and that’s what I began to show in my series of photographs; and so ‘1938’ began . . .  

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