Rachel opens up on life with Alzheimers

Rachel McMahon speaking at The Alzheimer Society of Ireland's AlzTalks event. Photo:Donal Hackett
Rachel McMahon speaking at The Alzheimer Society of Ireland's AlzTalks event. Photo:Donal Hackett

A YOUNG Limerick woman and carer is one of the faces of a new series of talks which aims to open the conversation on Alzheimers and Dementia.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI) has launched a campaign that features real-life stories of people with dementia and their carers that were recorded at the AlzTalks event in Sligo.

They included a poignant personal testimony from Limerick City woman Rachel McMahon who spoke about the loneliness, uncertainty and the profound shock her family experienced when her dad, Tony, was diagnosed with dementia.

There are more than 2,000 people living with dementia in Limerick and Rachel is a member of the Dementia Carers Campaign Network (DCCN), which is supported by the ASI.

She was in her first year studying Journalism in Dublin in 2005 when her father was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 58.

Rachel helped with the care of her father for several years as she worked as a broadcaster and later, as a social media strategist. Tony passed away at the age of 66 in 2012 in a nursing home facility.

“Lonely is the only word to truthfully describe what it was like to be 19 and find out your parent had an illness you couldn’t talk about. I didn’t know how I was allowed to feel so I retreated. No one hugged me. No one knew what to say. I didn’t know what to say. College was over after that, my heart had left the night I learned Dad had Alzheimer’s.

“As hard as life became on this path that took us deep into an undiscovered country, those of us who loved my father realised we had a finite amount of time with him. We made everything of it. When I recall the hardest parts of our journey, I balance them with the memories we made or that I was a part of. For example, I remember our trip to Wales for the Heineken Cup final to see Munster beat Biarritz and lift the trophy.

“My mother once said Alzheimer’s changed everything. It changed the trajectory of my life. It challenged my fear because I had no choice but to learn what it was and learn its language, so I could understand what was happening to Dad and more recently my grandmother who was diagnosed last year.

“13 years on, I don’t think so much about what I was lost. I think of what I was given. A voice. A voice that is finally heard.”

In 2017 Rachel joined the DCCN to lend her voice to a dedicated advocacy group of carers. She took up the mantle of caring again this year when her grandmother was diagnosed with mixed dementia.

Other speakers on the night included IDWG member, Kevin Quaid from Limerick.