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  • Writer's pictureJessica Crawford

4 - Travelling with Dementia - Our Trip to Italy Part 1

I don't even know where to start with this diary entry. My aim is to tell the story of our trip to Italy, but it doesn't seem feasible to summarise everything in a 5-minute read. When I think back to our holiday, I had such an array of emotions in such a short space of time. I felt anxious, excited, happy, frustrated, sad and loved, all in a short 5 days. I've been staring at a blank computer screen for over an hour now, figuring out how on earth I can capture this in a simple blog (you can tell I'm new to this).

Another problem I have is that the more I think, the more I remember. I've remembered things that are hard to explain and actually contradict what I've said in previous posts. For example, I've banged on about how she doesn't want to leave the sofa and how she's now becoming more unsociable, but there's an exception. That exception is me.

All of what I've said is true, but for a period of time I felt she was a little fixated with me. She didn't want to leave the sofa, unless it was catching a train to visit me. She didn't want to socialise, unless it was going shopping with me, or calling me, or going for lunch with me. Being completely honest, I wish I had handled this situation differently. She was clearly longing for a closer bond with me, hence why she asked me to go to Italy. Of course I did spend time with her, but not as much as she probably wanted. At the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had a demanding job, 2 step kids, a large family with numerous nieces/nephews to see, a large group of friends and a social life. Oh, I also had a wedding to plan and one thing you need to know about me; I never make things easy for myself. I decided to get married in a field which took a lot of planning. I felt like I had a million things to juggle and I didn't prioritise mum like I should have. I sometimes saw my phone ringing and thought 'not again'. Mum contacted me every Saturday and said 'Can I come to Beverley to see you today?'. I often made excuses and now, I really regret that.

I feel it's important to share the above for 2 reasons. Firstly, without understanding how I felt and how I handled the situation, the rest of my blog wouldn't make much sense. Secondly, for anyone who is in a similar situation to me, this disease is contradicting. It is difficult to explain and confusing.

Now I've got that out of the way, I feel I can at least start my Italy story and explain what it's like travelling with dementia (albeit pre-diagnosis). A quick recap; I knew mum wasn't right, I suspected dementia but couldn't get a doctors appointment because mum loves cheese, she was a little bit obsessed with me, she wanted to go to Italy and despite my concerns, I agreed. Phew.

Mum decided to visit San Nicola Arcella, a town in the Calabria region of Southern Italy. Her sister has an apartment there and she had already visited numerous times before.

It was a long trip which took over 24 hours to get there. If Mum had confidence in me to drive abroad (which I've done on numerous occasions but there was no persuading her), it would have only been a 6.5-hour journey. Even though I couldn't see Mum's logic, I didn't want to argue. She was really looking forward to our trip away and I wanted it to be special. So that's where the first story begins, getting there (who would have thought the problems would start so soon?).

I packed up and set off to Manchester Airport. What I didn't realise was mum had suddenly developed severe anxiety when travelling by car (good job we took the long route!). Anxiety is something which has got increasingly worse over the last few years, I just wasn't aware it was a symptom initially. Mum firmly secured her seat belt in place, closed her eyes and held on for dear life for the 2-hour journey. I wasn't allowed to overtake on the motorway and if I tried, Mum would scream. Literally, scream. She didn't believe I knew the way (despite having a sat nav visible) so panicked the whole way and told me on several occasions we had missed the flight (we hadn't). The little voice inside of me kept saying 'Don't snap, you already know there's probably something wrong and she might not be doing it on purpose'. I really, really tried to listen to the little voice but I failed. This was quite possibly the worst start to our holiday ever.

Although it took a little longer than I expected, I managed to make it in good time. Mum just smirked at me when we arrived and said 'you're just lucky'. Despite the stressful start, I was determined to put it behind me. We grabbed some food, had a natter and did some shopping before heading to security. The queues were pretty big at security so we spent some time waiting. Mum also didn't take out the liquids or electrics in her hand luggage so we wasted more time whilst they searched her bag and did a drug sample. Finally, we were through and headed to the gate ready to board our flight. All of a sudden, this happened;

Mum: Come on then Jessica, follow me. I know exactly where I'm going.

Me: But we're here? The gate is only down there.

Mum: No, we need to go and find a taxi driver. I know the way.

Me: A taxi driver? We don't need a taxi!

Mum: Jessica, I've done this a hundred times, we need to get a taxi to the hotel in Naples.

Me: Mum, I think you're confused. We need to get on the aeroplane first.

Mum: No we don't. We've already been on the aeroplane and now we're in Italy.

Me: Mum, we're still in Manchester Airport.

It actually took me a long time to convince her we weren't in Italy. When she realised she made a mistake she laughed hysterically. I laughed with her to try and hide my concern but all I wanted to do was cry. This is not depression. I am now more sure than ever that this could be dementia.

When we did arrive in Naples, it was clear Mum didn't know the way. We did need a taxi (as she had rightly acknowledged 3 hours too early), but she didn't know where to get a taxi. We were both searching until someone approached me and said 'taxi?'. Thank god for that. We agreed a price and he said 'follow me'. It wasn't until we had been walking for 5 minutes that I realised this seemed dodgy. We carried on walking until we approached a small back-alley street with an old, rusty car parked (it looked like a Ford Fiesta from the 1980's but I couldn't be sure). Mum and I looked at each other with an expression of 'WTF' written all over our faces. It was too late now to back out so, yep, I made my mum get in a car with an Italian who clearly wasn't a taxi driver. Mum wasn't subtle and spent the whole journey screaming 'WE'RE GOING TO DIE!'. For once though, I actually believed her.

As always, I'll finish with a picture which represents my story. Here's a pic of the final hurdle in getting to Naples (it was actually gold, too). Bear in mind, we're not even halfway to our final destination and this was still only our first day;

Gold Ford Fiesta

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