bbc.co.uk
Home
Explore the BBC
You and Yours - Transcript
BBC Radio 4
Print This Page
TX: 22.09.06 - Sir Cliff talks about dementia

PRESENTER: JOHN WAITE
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
 

WAITE
Now Sir Cliff Richard receives so many requests to lend his name and time to charities it's impossible for him to accept them all. However, he readily signed up to be the centenary patron for Alzheimer's Disease International and for good reason - his mother, Dorothy, has dementia. And coming to terms with that, he told us yesterday, has been the hardest thing Sir Cliff has ever had to do. So as he explained to Carolyn Atkinson he believes spreading information about the condition is vitally important.

RICHARD
Well if it's anything like what my family went through with my mother we didn't know that there was anything wrong with her, we thought her memory was going and of course we used to joke about it and she'd say - Oh I'm getting so stupid - she said - I can't remember. I said - Come on now, I can't even remember what I'm doing tomorrow. If only we'd known and of course there was a point then when for instance my sister used to tell me - because my sister looked after my mother - she'd say - Mother, she's being so belligerent - and they used to get into arguments. Now my sister says to me - Oh if only I'd known, if only I had known early, early on that this is what it was I would have just said yes mum, no mum and just made her happy because that's all we can do.

ATKINSON
Because you're also trying to protect the whole situation aren't you, you're trying to think there isn't anything wrong, it's just one of those things, it's an ageing process, we all do it and actually when the reality hits. I mean when the reality hit you, when you realised there was an actual condition going on, how did you get affected?

RICHARD
Well it got to a point when my sister, Joan, said - I can't do this anymore, we've just found mum walking about in the town village lost, not knowing why she was there - and she said - I have a family and I can't be chasing after mum. So we found a fabulous home for her but she was still compus mentis enough to be able to say - Oh don't leave me here. It really hurt us, it's like we were doing her a terrible disservice. Anyway only a few months in we found that if in fact we could distract, if she looked the other way, we could leave. And she'd forget us and instantly the people there said - She never looked back. Because the minute she looked away she had something else to look at and all the things she'd talked to with us was gone. And in that respect it's a gentle disease because my mother knows nothing about political uproars, about terrorists, she doesn't know what time it is, doesn't know what month it is, she doesn't know how bad the weather is outside or how good it is for that matter. But what we do we choose to go at lunchtime and they bring her food, which is all - it's like baby food really, pureed food - and we feed her because she doesn't feed - she can't feed herself, she doesn't walk, she can't speak. So - and we're not quite sure - she was always terribly short sighted, so you know you can't do eye tests for people like this, so she still has her glasses on, so we come as close as we can to her and hope that she can see us but I'm not sure if she recognises us. But as I say we have good visits because every now and then she'll look up and she'll just smile and sometimes she'll reach over and just touch your arm. So it's bearable.

ATKINSON
I read somewhere that you used to put a picture of her how she was - the vibrant woman that you remember her as, is that true?

RICHARD
Yes I did, somebody said - Is there a photograph of your mum in her heyday in the room? - I said - No, she's got all the family pictures and there's some little picture .. - they said - No, no, I mean a real big picture. And we found a fantastic picture of my mum, she was just preparing to go to one of my film premieres, she looked great, she probably was in her - I must have been 22 - she'd have been in her 40s, early 40s, she looked fantastic. And I had this picture blown up and it's on the wall and it's on the wall so that these good folks in the home when they come in they look and go - This is the woman we're looking after, this is not just a shell, this is what she used to be. And hopefully it inspires them to see their patients not just as an object or a statistic or someone that can't remember or think or talk but someone who actually had a life and gave life to children and I think it works, although this home's pretty good, I don't know that they need reminding but it's there anyway just in case.

ATKINSON
It's obviously symbolic to put a picture there but does it worry you about the general level - obviously your mother's in a very good home - the general level of awareness and training and these are people who need looking after with dignity?

RICHARD
Well that's right, I mean the training is vital, absolutely vital, because I know as children it's been tough for us dealing with this, because we had no experience of it whatsoever, in fact the Alzheimer's help line was very helpful, they were able to say to us - Has your mum pulled her bed away from the wall? And we said - No. Within a month my mother had pulled this bed away but we'd been warned, this is what she's going to do, that's to be expected, for some reason she felt - I don't know whether she thought things were going to climb up the wall. They also, when we phoned them once, said - Is she sleeping on the sofa and maybe got her overcoat? A few weeks later my mother was sleeping on the sofa with her overcoat on her. So we were prepared for these little things and the Alzheimer's help line was really, really helpful, I have to say.

ATKINSON
Do you consider yourself a carer or do you still consider yourself a son?

RICHARD
Oh no I feel like a son. I mean I'm caring for her the best way I can. The ideal situation - when we were young all of us - my sisters and I talked - and I said - Look I can afford, we can afford to look after our mum at home. And that's when my sister Joan became my hero for a while because she said - If you built her a little cottage, attached to my house, we'll let her have her own front door but I'll have one door in the kitchen that I can get through if I want to go and see how she is. So I did that and my mum was happy and my sister was happy. So it's been - it's been good for me, I can care for her in that way but the real care comes from the everyday touching of her, the combing of her hair, dressing her to make her look - they'll never make her look the way she was because when she dressed - you know we didn't realise my mother was completely grey, we always saw my mother as a brunette, she had her hair done regularly ...

ATKINSON
[Indistinct words off mic]

RICHARD
She did - well it was known in show business when I went out with my mother they thought she was a new girlfriend, she looked fantastic and right until the time when the dementia really took a hold she was so concerned of how she looked, she always looked great. Now of course dementia takes all that away, she doesn't care what - well she doesn't think about wearing anything, she just stays in bed. But the carers have to see through all of that, it's not fair that she should just be here dressed in a night gown.

ATKINSON
Because it's such a cruel disease isn't it and from your point of view do you feel - and this isn't meant to be critical - but do you feel guilty that you have had to put her in a home?

RICHARD
I did feel guilty at first because you know I'd said to my sisters we can afford to do this on our own and then it wasn't a matter of affording it, it was just that she needed 24 hour a day and it was just not possible, we did our best - Joan was wonderful with her and my sisters all visited and everything. But now we feel she has real care.

ATKINSON
With your schedule how do you - how often are you able to sort of visit and be more hands on?

RICHARD
Not as much as I'd like and we always go in pairs now. My sister Joan doesn't live her anymore, she lives in Portugal , so I phone her daughter Lindsey and Lindsey and I go together. To go and visit my mum on your own - if I went on my own I wouldn't have anyone to talk to. I could still feed her though but you know I think she quite enjoys the fact that when my sister and I go or my niece and I go we take it in turns to feed her mouthfuls of food and she can look from one to the other and we become a little tiny community again. But it's - no it's not as often as I'd like.

ATKINSON
And you talked once about worrying that she wouldn't recognise you at all, have you faced that fear now, do you think she doesn't recognise you?

RICHARD
I think she doesn't recognise me now, no and it's hard to tell anymore because she doesn't speak. But there was a point when she used to mumble something and we'd hear one word in five, we'd catch a word, and by looking at her eyes - my mother used to have a kind of look when she was being a bit funny and sarky and we'd be able to nudge her and go no! really. And just capture a little bit of what she was trying to say but there's now come this time when she doesn't talk anymore and so it's a real frightening - really to know where this is going to end up, well other than death of course. And that's something that all of us have - we've got to have that in our minds.

ATKINSON
With your belief in God do you - how do you sort of square the circle?

RICHARD
It's just one of those things, I don't know why these things happen to us but they do and we've just got to knuckle down and say that if we are upset God is even more upset. If we trust him then we have eternity ahead of us. Now I don't know what that means even to be honest with you but it means that we don't have to think oh my God my mother's dying of dementia or - my feeling in my heart is that I will see my mother again and nothing can ever improve that feeling, nothing, I know I will see her again.

ATKINSON
You can reconcile your mother's condition now with the bigger picture?

RICHARD
With the bigger picture it's still disheartening and it's maybe part of this - the process of growth that I have to go through to deal with that, my mother probably had other things to deal with, I know she had a stillborn child, I would have had a brother, so she had to deal with something that was an absolute disaster at the time. If we don't learn from it, if we become hateful and blaming God or whoever we want to blame for things that happen in our life I don't think we ever grow, we'll never get past it and we'll never be happy again.

WAITE
Sir Cliff Richard. And you can get a CD of some of our recent reports on dementia via the Alzheimer's Society. You can find out how by following the links on our website.


Back to the You and Yours homepage

The BBC is not responsible for external websites

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy