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By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Earlier this week Tony Parkes and his daughter Natalie were interviewed by BBC Northwest/Radio Lancashire in the wake of the announcement that Tony has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, one of commonest forms of dementia. I found it hard going watching the interview. It was brave of Tony and his daughter to speak publicly; it was clearly distressing for both of them.
I realize many, perhaps most of you, won't know who Tony Parkes is, so indulge me in paying tribute to him here, for he is one of the unsung heroes of Blackpool FC's ascendancy a decade and a half ago.
He began life as a footballing midfielder with non-league Buxton before signing on with Blackburn Rovers in 1970. After a long and distinguished career as a player for Blackburn Rovers he joined their coaching staff in 1982 and was part of the management team that won the Premier League title for the club. In his two decades as a coach at Rovers he also acted as caretaker manager for a few months at a time, on six separate occasions.
When Parkes finally ended his thirty-four year association with Blackburn in 2004 it was to join Blackpool FC as assistant to Simon Grayson in 2005. I think we owe a great debt to Tony Parkes for his coaching skills and his abilities to spot and bring on talent, Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell among them. He was part of the coaching team that saw Blackpool return to the Championship after an absence of twenty years and he became caretaker manager of the Seasiders in December 2008 and for the remainder of the season following Grayson's departure. In May 2009 Parkes might have become the permanent manager of Blackpool but he was made such a derisory offer by Karl Oyston (no surprise there) that he resigned rather than take the position, stating "I felt the offer was unjust and there was no way I could accept it." Ian Holloway came in and basically led the team that Parkes had done so much to assemble and shape straight up into the Premier League. Tony Parkes probably can't recall any of those glory years now.
I have some personal experience for how harrowing Alzheimer's disease can be, for I have power of attorney and duty of care for my uncle. He has been suffering from dementia for a decade now and for the last five years he has been in residential care here in Blackpool where I can keep an eye on him. My brothers and I (Norman has no spouse or children of his own) first became involved in assisting him when it became apparent that his memory was failing. For a while he continued to live in his own home, supported by visits from his nephews to help with financial matters and by Age UK to assist with everyday shopping, cleaning et cetera. When he finally became a danger to himself, wasn't eating properly, would forget to take his medication (for high blood pressure, for diabetes, for dementia) or would go out and forget both why he'd gone and where he lived, then it was time to relocate him to somewhere secure where he would be well cared for round the clock.
To look at him, you wouldn't know there is anything amiss. Just as with Tony Parkes, my uncle is in robust physical health and has just celebrated his 91st birthday. But he doesn't know where he is, doesn't know who I am, can't remember anything either from his rich and fulfilling life or from a mere five minutes ago. As Natalie says in her interview, she has lost her father - even though in body he is still here. To her enormous credit, she has given up her teaching job to become his full time carer. I started losing my uncle a decade ago. The man I visit now is a mere shadow, living in his cloud of unknowing. I know many of you will be familiar with that scenario. Dementia is a cruel affliction that steals the mind.


Clouds of Unknowing

As a disease, it is on the increase simply because we all live on average ten to twenty years longer than our grandparents ever did, so the chances of something malfunctioning in later life are also increased. Given that trend, what is the key to holding infirmity, including cruel dementia, at bay?
Keeping one's brain healthy and one's body fit (or mens sana in corpore sano as those Romans used to express it) appears to be the best chance any of us has - a challenge, I know, and one that gets harder with advancing years! My own recipe is to try and do at least thirty minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise every day, to drink three strong cups of black coffee every morning, to eat a curry a week and to keep on blogging! I hope that's the key. Time will tell.
Here's my latest poem. I have to stress (just in case anyone is tempted to jump to conclusions), that it is a wholly fictional piece, fabricated in the imaginarium...
Dreams Of Forgetting
You used to have such dreams,
nightmares in truth, from which
you'd wake up terrified, and tell
of the sheer horror you felt.
For in those dreams you could
remember nothing at all:
your name, your age, your home.
You feared your very essence
was gone, as though
your memory banks were shot,
the thinking part
of your brain switched off;
worst fate imaginable
for one who has such total recall.
I scoffed at the idea
you might be losing your mind;
quite rightly made light
of your concerns - for you were
fit and healthy, in your prime.
Those disturbing nights
persisted for a year or two
then took their leave.
Three decades down the line
I mourn for your decline,
am sorry that you don't know
who you are or who am I;
and more - I wonder often
in the lonely dark:
if we should have paid
greater heed to your fears,
might we have acted otherwise?
deflected or softened the blow?
After all, what if
those dreams of forgetting
were sent as portents,
stark warnings from a brain
that could somehow apprehend
the long drawn out lacuna
of its end?
Thanks for reading. Enjoy every precious moment, S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook


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