Inez White (61), living in Ballymena but originally from Toome, lost her mother when she was only seven-years-old.
Her sister Annie was only 21-years-old but stepped in to be the sole guardian for Inez and her two brothers.
Annie Madden (75) was diagnosed with Vascular dementia two years ago and Inez decided to sign up for Belfast Memory Walk to raise vital funds for Alzheimer’s Society in support of her sister.
Inez revealed: “My mother died when I was seven-years-old and Annie made a promise to her on her deathbed that she would keep us together, and she did. Annie reared 3 of us, she was 21 and she was able to keep us together because she was 21. She was the only one working, the rest of us were in school. She just did everything; she was the mother we didn’t have. She was our sole guardian.
“She had no life of her own really. She just became a mother. I was seven, my youngest brother was five, the brother above me was 14. She worked in Gallaher’s in Ballymena. When my youngest brother and me came home from school we just went up the road to stay with my auntie and uncle until Annie came home from work.
“She supported us through school. When you were about ten you learnt household chores. You needed to brush mats and sweep the floor. And she used to check everything you did. Which used to peeve me at the time but as I got older realised she instilled a lot of stuff into me. She was a great role model. She used to take me and my younger brother on the bus on a Saturday to Cookstown or into the town. They are happy memories and I wish she remembered them, but when I ask her - there is no answer.”
Annie was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia in 2015. Inez is ‘heartbroken’ they had grown apart in recent years and she had not been there to see her early symptoms of dementia.
“As time wore on we grew apart and lost touch last few years and it really upsets me that I wasn’t there to see the symptoms. But from what I’ve been told she would have been repeating quite a few things, kept showing the same photographs over and over. I think it was my eldest niece who picked up on it first. I got word that Annie had dementia and I went straight to her.”
Inez continued: “It’s now a role reversal and I travel to Magherfelt every weekend, and during the week if I can, to see her and I do all the housework. I give her a shower, bring her washing home with me, wash it, iron it and bring it back to her again.
“There is no conversation, I chat away and ask her stuff like, does she remember us in the tin bath by the fire - but she doesn’t say anything in response. She’s very angry all the time. She doesn’t seem to be angry at me or anybody else, but she gets angry because she doesn’t know what’s happening to her.
“I would get her to do small things, like I would give her a bowl while I am washing up and she would dry it but she wouldn’t know where it would go, and she’ll stand there, and you can see she is wondering what to do with this. I find it really heart-breaking to see her so frustrated and struggling to do these things.”
“I also take her to see our brothers. My brother who is older than me has a white and black collie called Jack, and Annie is completely different when she is around the dog. She becomes really animated and will talk with the dog and about the dog more than she would about anything else. And the dog is very loyal to her too. He’ll not move from her side unless she throws the Frisbee and he’ll run and bring it back to her.”
Speaking about taking part in Alzheimer’s Society Belfast Memory Walk, Inez said: “I saw the advertisement on TV and decided I would take part in Memory Walk. It’s not a big long walk. It doesn’t matter if it was long - if it was 20 miles I would still do it. If whatever I can raise can help someone [affected by dementia] that’s the important thing.”
“I would hope that there will be something people read in my story and they say maybe I can do this, I will do this.”
Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer, with someone developing it every three minutes, and there’s currently no cure.
Be one of over 100,000 walkers across the UK and support people affected by dementia. You can take part in a 1.5km or 7.5km walk.
To sign up for Alzheimer’s Society Belfast Memory Walk being held in Stormont Estate on Saturday 16 September go to: www.memorywalk.org.uk/find-a-walk/belfast/