Claire Cox saw her mother, Susan Barter, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 59. Aged only 68, Susan sadly passed away in 2007. Watching her mother’s decline from a busy, independent and loving person, to a frustrated and extremely vulnerable lady requiring 24-hour care, Claire, first hand, has seen the full effects of this debilitating disease.
A charity extremely close to her heart, Claire has completed many events to fundraise for Alzheimer’s Society, from 5Ks through to the tough 26-mile Stonehenge to Avebury trek last year, raising thousands for the charity. This weekend, Claire will be putting on her Alzheimer’s Society vest once again, running in the WR10K Finsbury Park race.
Claire’s story begun in 1996 when she started to notice changes in her mother, Susan, when she was working as a pharmacist for Boots Pharmacy. After struggling to pick up a new computer system employed by the company, Susan felt compelled to leave her job and, shortly after, was diagnosed with depression. “She was diagnosed with depression which, looking back, was actually the start of the Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t picked up because she was so young,” explains Claire. “Things weren’t quite right, she just kept forgetting things. It was just silly things at first like forgetting where she had put her car keys.”
During this time, Susan grew self-conscious of her growing forgetfulness and, as a result, started to avoid social situations. Determined to delve deeper into the route of the problem, Claire’s stepfather, Adrian, pushed the doctor to carry out cognitive tests, and Susan was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Susan was put on medication to halt the progression of the disease, which, for nearly two years, allowed Susan to retain a little bit of her independence. “For a little while, we got my mum back and I think she felt better about herself,” says Claire. “Although she couldn’t drive, she could go out for a walk around her local area as long as she had her name and address in her purse.”
However, Susan’s growing consciousness of her condition caused her much agony and frustration. “She knew she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to be doing,” says Claire, “she’d go to do something but couldn’t do what she wanted to do. She’d stand there with a hoover and a plug and have no idea what she was meant to do with the plug.”
As a result of Susan’s growing frustrations, Claire and her family were agonised to witness Susan’s change in personality as a result of the disease. “She’d always been a very quiet, loving person, who would do anything for anybody,” said Claire, “but unfortunately, the dementia turned her quite aggressive and violent, which was not the person we knew. That was very hard for all of us.”
Eventually, Claire, her stepfather, and her two siblings, David and Sarah, made the decision to put Susan into a care home. While the family pulled together to ensure Susan could be kept at home for as long as possible, Susan began to require 24-hour care and attention. “It got to the point where my stepfather couldn’t go out without either dropping my mum off with me or my aunt, or one of us going to sit with her because she couldn’t be left alone,” explained Claire. “Either she’d go out and get herself lost or turn the cooker on and put herself in danger.”
Susan’s dementia turned Claire’s life upside down, exacerbated when her stepfather, Adrian, sadly passed away while Susan was in care. She said: “When you stop having to do everything, that’s when it really hits you. While you’re still caring or visiting you just go onto automatic pilot, and you find that your whole life you’re waiting for the phone to ring because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
For Claire and her family, the information and services offered by Alzheimer’s Society was a huge support. “My stepfather got all of the information from Alzheimer’s Society,” explains Claire. “It was really helpful having this information and just being able to go on their website and look up bits and pieces and realise that was happening was normal for the situation. It was also helpful to read other people’s experiences.”
Keen to give something back to the charity, Claire saw running the WR10K Finsbury Park event as the perfect opportunity. Having recently discovered a newfound passion for running, joining her local running club and running her first half marathon last month, Claire saw the WR10K Finsbury Park race as the ideal challenge to set herself for summer. “It fits for me doing a 10K with pace makers,” explains Claire, “and running for something that’s supporting a charity so close to my heart fitted really well.”