NewsNorthern Ireland

John Hume's wife speaks emotionally about his struggles with dementia

Pat Hume with Miriam O'Calllaghan at RTE (Pic via RTE 1 Radio Facebook page)
Pat Hume with Miriam O'Calllaghan at RTE (Pic via RTE 1 Radio Facebook page)

John Hume's wife has spoken powerfully about how one of the architects of the Peace Process is now battling a form of dementia.

Pat Hume was speaking with Miriam O'Callaghan on RTE Radio 1 this morning during an interview for a book she has written about her husband called 'John Hume – Irish Peacemaker'.

During the course of the chat, Pat speaks for the first time about her husband's struggles with dementia.

“Unfortunately John is having severe memory difficulties at the moment. He has a form of dementia... It hasn’t actually taken away all his quality of life in that Derry is a very dementia-friendly city. People love John. He can go out for a walk. Every taxi in the place will stop for him... I can go for a walk myself. He can do his crosswords. He can enjoy the paper. So it could be worse.”

“His memory is very bad, Miriam. If John was speaking to you now and I said to him in half an hour, ‘it was lovely to see Miriam’, he would say ‘where did we see Miriam?’ He just wouldn’t know that he’d seen you. If he was out for a meal, he’d be back for half an hour and I would say ‘it was lovely food we had tonight’ and he would say ‘what food?’ So it really is very sad.”

Pat admitted that being a carer to the man she has been married to for 55 years is difficult.

“It can be very tough. Especially at the end of the day, and you know when somebody asks you the same question twenty times and you’re giving the same answers, and it’s very hard to get up the energy to be pleasant, so it can be tough. I am very blessed in that I have a daughter in Derry who is a doctor and she keeps a very good eye to him.”

The former SDLP leader, now 78, will not be in Dublin for the launch of the book as Pat says he no longer enjoys being away from home, despite travelling the world extensively when he was in politics.

"For a man who travelled the world non-stop, he doesn’t like being away from home now. He loves Derry. He loves going down to Donegal because they’re very familiar to him. He doesn’t like going to Dublin... and John loved Dublin and he loved Europe and America. Now he’s not interested.”

Pat Hume also used the opportunity to call for more help for dementia sufferers.

“One of the things that I would love to see is a greater knowledge of being dementia-friendly. Dementia-friendly workplaces, dementia-friendly cities. Because it is getting very common and it must be really really sad for the individual because you lose your uniqueness; you lose so much.

"And it would be wonderful if out of somebody like John who is a fairly prominent person if it would lead people to consider let’s make our area a dementia-friendly area. And then, when people say are out for a meal and they [person with dementia] might say something which is inappropriate because the filter does go in the brain, that you can just shrug your shoulders.”