Derry soccer coach Jimmy Crumley (60) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago but, in hindsight, his wife Marian thinks the signs were there much earlier.
“Until then Jimmy was a very active man. He was a painter and decorator by trade and then, in the evening, it was all about football. He was involved in coaching various teams and even started up the youth team in his own club,” says Marian.
“We first noticed something wrong when he started to withdraw from his work with the teams until he was just taking the youngest players. My son coaches them now and Jimmy is back there helping out.”
But it wasn’t just Jimmy’s life that was affected. From working full-time, Marian has had to reduce her hours right down and now each day seems to bring a new challenge.
“It’s a learning curve for us every step of the way but the support from the Friday Club at the Healthy Living Centre in Creggan has been invaluable.
“We first heard about through the Alzheimer’s Society,” she says.
“Jimmy had got to the stage where he needed a bit more support and more structure in his daily life. His main challenge is communication - he just can’t get the words out. It’s very frustrating and he’s at a low point just now but the club and the Healthy Living Centre have opened up a whole new lifeline for him and for me.
“The Friday Club, funded by Big Lottery Fund, is activity based and Jimmy gets to meet other people while I have time to catch up with things I need to do - indeed, it’s enabled me to carry on working for a few hours.
“You can see a real lilt in his step when he’s going into the centre. He enjoys the arts and crafts but, especially, the reminiscence and music. He can just be himself there. The staff and volunteers are great and can give him one-to-one attention and he feels safe. It’s been such a relief to find this place.
“Last year, Jimmy even had the chance to try arts and crafts and discovered a talent for painting.
“It’s now something he really enjoys, a new pastime, but we’d never have discovered that if he hadn’t had the opportunity here. We could start out own art gallery with the paintings he’s done.
“This is a scary, scary disease and you have to take each day at a time and try to remain positive.
“The struggles are there but you get up every day and try to make it as happy as possible. Here, in the Healthy Living Centre, Jimmy finds that happiness.”
Seamas Heaney, Director of the Old Library Trust, believes people could learn much from Jimmy and Marian’s experiences.
“While people are fearful of dementia and the difficulties it brings, it is still a life worth living - that’s the ethos here at the Friday Club. By supporting people through the challenges they face, we can help them to find new ways to enjoy life,” he says.