Vascular dementia accounts for seven per cent of dementia cases in the UK, stemming from some form of trauma that starves the brain of oxygen. Those who manage to survive their trauma are left with a degenerative condition that threatens to take away the very essence of who they are.

Helping families and friends to pick up the pieces after a devastating diagnosis, is a Sunderland charity, dedicated to supporting those with a dementia diagnosis, supporting them as they come to terms with their condition.

One Sunderland woman is thankful to Age UK Sunderland’s Essence Service for preserving the essence of her mum, Rita.

June Bradley steps through the doors of the Essence Centre in Doxford Park with her mother a young-at-heart Rita Bell, 83, looking around the room with excitement.

“We come here at least once a week, mum loves the curling sessions on a Monday,” explains June, 59, who has been bringing her mother Rita to the centre for over a year.

Close behind, Rita’s husband George, 87, follows through the doors, with a smile on his face as he sees his wife light up at the thought of some friendly competition with some familiar companions.

“As soon as you walk in, you just know this is a friendly, safe and caring place to be – and that’s important for mum and for dad.

“Dad is very involved with mum’s care at home, and because he’s not one for sharing his problems or emotions, it can really take its toll, so the centre has been a godsend for both of them.

“Mum and dad recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary and the centre let us have a little party here with some family and friends – it’s a place mum feels really comfortable, and they get a chance to be husband and wife again which is an unfortunate rarity for them now.”

“At home it’s very much mum as patient and dad as carer, so coming to the Essence Centre means dad is relieved of his duties for a while and he’s able to really enjoy mum’s company, as well as get some time with his own friends here,” she added.

George regularly helps out at the centre, providing an extra pair of hands for staff to organise sessions, and is a friendly face for other visitors and families.

“That’s what has been so great about the Essence Centre – it’s about the whole family.

“With the technicalities of looking after mum, it’s all very focused on Rita as a patient, but the centre is just as much for loved ones as it is for those with dementia. It’s about family and friends, and that’s why we all love coming.”

Rita was diagnosed with vascular dementia nearly two years ago, but her diagnosis wasn’t simple. After a spell of poor health that meant Rita needed intensive care, what seemed like very minor blips to start with, escalated to serious issues very quickly.

“We weren’t sure it was dementia for a long time,” explains June, “so by the time the official diagnosis came through it wasn’t a major shock, but heart-breaking all the same. You really do worry you’re going to lose a member of your family.

“The centre has helped immensely. Even though we didn’t find it for a few months after mum was diagnosed, it’s been a great help for me and dad to get information from friendly people who genuinely want to help. And having the chance to speak with other families going through the same change with their loved ones has helped both dad and I with coming to terms with things.”

While June thanks the centre and its staff for helping herself and George through the difficult time, she said its greatest aid has been the positive impact it has had on Rita.

“I love that mum genuinely looks forward to something, she always seems so excited to get to her curling class on a Monday and have a natter with the other people there. It’s brought something to her life that she really enjoys and it’s the best thing to see her smile.”

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