During his conversation with Mike and Sinéad O’Rahilly, Ryan Tubridy asked Mike – who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia in 2017 – if he’s aware of gaps in his memory or if he “just goes day to day”. It’s a delicate question to ask a person with such a condition, but if he’s in any way miffed by it, Mike doesn’t show it, as he answers the question without hesitating:
“I go day to day, but I find very much nowadays that my short-term memory is a big problem.”
A follow-up query was, by Ryan’s own admission, “not a very nice question” – what is Mike’s fear for the future?
“My fear is that it will get a lot worse. I suppose my long-term fear is that it’s going to get so bad later on time that I might be told, given no choice but to go into a residential care home. I don’t want that at all at all.”
It wasn’t all tough questions, even though hearing what Sinéad, Mike and their children have been through, some of it made for tough listening. Before his dementia diagnosis, Mike had been through a serious car crash and an MS diagnosis. And it was just before the dementia diagnosis, Sinéad told Ryan, that she experienced some very disturbing – and totally out of character – behaviour from her husband:
“I had noticed changes in Mike. I had noticed his personality was changing. That he wasn’t the same man that I married.”
How, Ryan wondered, did this manifest itself? “Sometimes it was like being married to a stranger,” is the chilling answer. And it gets worse: Mike would get “very worked up” in social situations. By “very worked up”, Sinéad means aggressive, which was not something she had ever seen from him before. But it gets worse still, in the summer of 2017:
“Really without any known trigger, there was an episode where Mike became physically violent towards me. Now, in all our years together, Ryan, Mike had never been physically violent towards me.”
The incident of physical violence happened in front of Sinéad and Mike’s two children, Luke and Eva. In fact, Luke had to stop Mike from seriously hurting Sinéad. The next day Mike had no recollection of what happened and Sinéad realised that they had a huge issue.
“I swore on that day that I would get help. I sat with Mike, I sat with Luke and Eva and I promised – it was on a Saturday, I remember the day well – and I sat them down and I said, ‘We’re going to get help.’”
Sinéad immediately set about getting answers and it was that process that led to Mike’s dementia diagnosis. At the time of his diagnosis in 2017, Mike was 45. What the O’Rahillys have been through might defeat a lesser couple, but they come across as remarkably resilient. You can hear their full story, from first meeting, to marriage and dealing with the challenges they have faced and continue to face, as told to Ryan, by going here.
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland have launched a Virtual Memory Tree campaign where you can leave a dedication to a loved one who has passed away. To donate visit here.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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