Carey Mulligan’s grandmother might not recognize her anymore, but that hasn’t stopped the actress from finding ways to connect.
The Oscar-nominated actress opened up about her beloved grandma Nans’ battle with dementia while guest-hosting BBC Radio 4‘s Best of Today show this week. Nans, who recently celebrated her 91st birthday, was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 and now lives in an assisted living home in her native Wales.
“When we leave she won’t remember that we’ve been there, but the sensation of being in the company of someone who loves you is something that we can’t deny people — there’s a calmness and companionship, and these really fundamental feelings of being loved and being taken care of by family who really love you,” the Suffragette star explained. “I think that’s something, regardless of how progressed your dementia is, that stays with you.”
While the visits can be difficult, Mulligan said she has experienced heartwarming moments as well. “It gets so awful and we’ve had terrible visits where we’ve all ended up in tears, but then we have the visits where something really magical happens,” she said.
The actress and her family have also discovered creative solutions to reconnect with Nans, including tapping into her love for music.
“She was a great lover of music, and she taught me to sing and she taught me to play the piano, and we realized that a lot of the times, just playing music and sitting with her was just the sort of loveliest time that we could spend with her,” the actress said. “Music is something that has often comes around for people who have dementia that it’s a way of linking to the past, it’s a nostalgic thing, it’s a calming thing.”
Most importantly, Mulligan wants to raise awareness about dementia, and help combat negative stereotypes surrounding the disease. “It gets tiresome hearing dementia being the butt of a joke,” she said. “I think there’s a general misunderstanding that in a lot of areas that dementia is a natural part of aging or it’s just something that happens to you when you get older.”
For example, Mulligan said, “I used to grow up hearing a lot of people referring to their grandparents having ‘lost their marbles,’ which is of course something that we’d never say about somebody who’d had cancer or heart disease.”
She added, “I think the understanding that dementia is a disease — it’s a disease of the brain, there are lots of different kinds of dementia, Alzheimer’s is one of them –and just spreading that awareness so that people really understand that this is a disease we have to fight.”