Julie Morris is a community palliative care clinical nurse specialist from Dunkeswell, East Devon. A keen runner, Julie manages to squeeze 15-20 miles a week around her demanding job, and this year, will be running in the WR10K Bristol race for a third time.
However, this year, the WR10K Bristol race is more poignant than ever. After seeing her father’s devastating decline after being diagnosed with dementia, Julie will be running to support Alzheimer’s Society. After going through the hugely emotional experience of seeing a family member diagnosed with dementia, while also seeing, first hand, the debilitating affects of the disease through her work as a care worker, Julie is passionate about doing all she can to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Society.
Julie’s father, John “Jack” Slater, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 79 and sadly died in 2007. After working in various engineering-based jobs throughout his working life, John, in his retirement, enjoyed tinkering in the garage at home, where he lived with his wife, Jean. Jean was first made aware something was wrong when she began to notice changes in John’s personality. “The first time my mum thought something was wrong was when he behaved totally out of character,” recalls Julie. “My granny had been poorly and my Dad was exceptionally close to her. My mum had been with her all day, returned at 8pm, and told my Dad she had died. He just moaned that she’d been out all day and took himself off to bed.”
Such behavioural changes were hugely upsetting for Julie, her mother and two sisters, Trudy and Su, to watch. “Alzheimer’s robbed us of who he really was,” explains Julie. “The sad thing about Alzheimer’s is that people forget that the person is still there, they just see this lost soul that, at times, may exhibit unusual behaviour because they are confused or frustrated that no one understands them.”
Fortunately, John was able to stay at home as his condition worsened, where his wife, Jean, could care for him full time. Although at first John’s deterioration was gradual, with him forgetting small things and places he’d been, as his condition worsened, he failed to recognise the people closest to him. “He often thought my eldest sister was my mum,” said Julie. “He occasionally phoned and told me the cleaner was there again. The cleaner being my mum.”
Julie’s mother, Jean, also recalls the heartbreaking experience of seeing her husband recognise his deterioration for himself after an afternoon in day care. Julie said, “It broke her heart when he came home after one of the sessions saying, ‘I’m not there as a helper am I? I’m one of them.’”
For Julie, “getting to know the person and their identity and getting to know their values, beliefs and history” is crucial to providing dementia sufferers with the valued care they need and deserve. As part of her job, Julie has taught on the subject of dementia, using her mum’s experience with her father as a teaching tool. “It is clear to me from this that the biggest challenge is getting people to understand, including health and social care professionals, about personhood,” says Julie. “Poor interaction and social isolation can undermine all of this, so it is important that we understand from the perspective of the person with Alzheimer’s so that we can relate.”
Julie has undertaken various challenges to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, including the Alzheimer’s Society Marathon Trek in September 2012 from Stonehenge to the Avebury Stone Circles. “Anything I can do to raise funds and, just as importantly, to raise awareness has to be worthwhile,” says Julie. As the WR10K Bristol Race 2013 was the first ever race Julie had taken part in, she tells us that this race will be particularly special to her. “WR10K at Blaise was my first running race so it will always be a bit special,” says Julie, “and if my running can raise awareness and hopefully some funds to support those with dementia, and their families, then I will be happy.”