As a nurse for over 40-years, Fran Murt knows all about the importance of listening to your patients and being that caring figure to those in need. So when the grandmother from Croxteth was diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 63 – the tables were suddenly turned as she became the patient.

Fran’s journey to reach a dementia diagnosis wasn’t an easy one, mainly down to her young age. As part of Dementia Action Week (13 – 17 May), she spoke candidly to staff at both the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, and her previous place of work, Aintree University Hospital, to share her story of living with dementia. 

“I had such a varied nursing career, from paediatrics and gynaecology to general medicine and cardiology, I’ve always been doing something to make things better for people – as that’s what nurses do. I can recall my first experience of dementia as a nurse. It was an elderly lady who kept thinking she would be catching a bus in the ward. So when I was diagnosed with dementia at a much younger age than that patient – all I could think was I would end up like that lady I met on the ward that day.” 

The first symptoms Fran can remember isFran Murt 1.jpg getting mixed up with the names of items or getting confused. Her husband Frank, who is now her carer, noted she would call household objects such as the kettle, a ‘thing’. As a nurse, Fran, who is now 67, had always prided herself on her organisational skills, but she’d started to feel less interested or that things were slipping.

“One day in work, we were on a study day and it involved a refresher course in how to use a defibrillator. In the past I’d worked in cardiology and I’d revived patients successfully before, so this for me was simply routine. However, after watching my friend practice on the medical dummy and it was my turn, I just couldn’t remember how to put it into sequence. Colleagues put it down to stress or even nerves, but never in my life had that happened to me. It really knocked me.”

Things continued to progress for the mum-of-three, including getting lost in Liverpool City Centre, a place she knew like the back of her hand, or forgetting where she’d placed her bags. Fran had gone to the GP, who said it would be stress, and it was only when she went to take a patient’s blood pressure and couldn’t remember which way the cuff went on that she knew her concerns needed to be taken seriously.

“As a nurse, I knew something was wrong but no-one was listening to me. I told my manager that I was going home as I was terrified of making a mistake with a patient. She referred me to occupational health, and from there on I was sent for various memory tests and scans, of which I failed. The doctors were saying, ‘you don’t look like someone who has dementia’, but to me – what are you meant to look like?”

Once results confirmed that Fran had vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, she said it was a relief in some way to understand there was a reason as to why she had changed so much. But it also turned her life upside down, from taking an early retirement from her much-loved nursing role and making her house more accessible, to not being able to spend time alone with her three grandchildren.

“Every day can be different now, it's not the same. It's not just a psychological illness, it's a physical illness. There's other aspects of it as well; I’ve got a falls alarm, I've had to rearrange my house and get an extension that will help me in the long term, my social life's changed, the way I live has changed. Some days I wake up and I feel like I'm broken and I'm never going to be put back together. Being a nurse, I was always able to fix things, but I can’t fix me.”

However, Fran is still trying to live her life to the fullest. From going to a local support group where she’s met others in similar situations, to spending time with Frank and her family, she knows her life has changed, but it’s not the end.

“I’m still me. I’m still in here somewhere, I just don’t get out as much as I used to. What I’d say to anyone who is dealing with someone with dementia, is you’ve just got to be patient. Look at the person as to who they are – not just what they look like. That's been my downfall in one way, as people dismiss dementia as an older person’s disease. But I also see it as a positive thing, because if there are others with dementia and they can see someone who's doing what I'm doing, trying their best to take every day as it comes and be positive, then that's a really good thing.”