May 10, 2020
When we launched Nourish Drinks, Alex Jane Hardstaff was one of our first customers, buying them for her mother, Gina, who has dementia. Here, Alex tells us how she has cared for her mum and what lockdown means for them both
My mum, Gina, is 81 and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2012. She was always a very present and active mum; a ‘strong working woman’ before we really talked about that. She played tennis and worked hard to compete at Wimbledon and then to build a successful tennis coaching business in York. Even now she is in a care home and receives palliative care for her dementia, she often has a tennis ball in her hand; it’s a comfort to her.
Until 10 days ago I was allowed to visit Mum at her care home as she is in the final stages of her illness. I would stand outside her window and sing to her and I could see Mum mouthing the words along with me. I'm not able to go inside the building due to the risk of spreading Covid-19 but I can email the staff with a message or picture for her, and I'm also able to FaceTime her occasionally. She doesn’t always know who I am now, but she will always be my Mum; she’s just a different mum with dementia.
Three years ago, we took the decision as a family that I would move in with Mum at her house to help look after her. My husband and two teenage children stayed in our family home a mile away. People don’t understand the reality of what it’s like to live with dementia, or care for someone who has it. It’s draining physically and mentally but you also have to dance and shout to get help from social care services, the council or financial support. It was extremely tough – I learnt a lot of resilience and patience – but strong women stay together and I knew looking after her was the right thing to do for as long as I could. She moved into her care home in June 2018, when it no longer became possible for me to give her the critical support she needed.
I believe taking Nourish Drinks to Mum kept her stronger for longer. Her dementia meant her swallowing reflex would go, so it was important to get her the nourishment she needed. I’d visit for a couple of hours and help her to sip a carton of Nourish Drink. I tried them all before I gave them to her and they were delicious, but she loved the Chocolate and Vanilla flavours. I would also mash up a banana or avocado to give her, although now she can only have liquid food.
Mum was before her time when it came to healthy eating. I remember in the 1970s, she would feed us oily fish and introduced us to mussels. We’d have jacket potatoes instead of chips, and fruit and yoghurt for dessert. She was always very conscious of protein and calcium-rich foods, and we ate lots of leafy greens! That’s why I wanted to respect her by giving her food I knew she would approve of, like Nourish Drinks.
When I was younger, Mum would say to me, ‘When I’m old and mad, make sure my nails and hair are done’. Before lockdown and when she was more active, I’d always take her to the hairdresser and for a manicure. When she couldn’t sleep, I’d put lavender oil on her neck and hands to soothe her. She would always comment on people’s hair colour, so sometimes I’d dye my hair pink to prompt a reaction and engage in conversation.
The palliative care Gina is receiving is second to none and it reassures me to know she is well looked after her. I’m still with her every step of the way. Alzheimer’s takes away so much, but love remains.
Gina passed away on 14 May 2020, which was her daughter Alex's birthday. We pass on our heartfelt best wishes to Alex and her family, from Jane and everyone on the Nourish team x