Wife of John Hume speaks of his ‘severe memory difficulties’

Former SDLP leader suffers from dementia after falling ill in the late nineties

John Hume at the burial ceremony of Brian Friel, at Glenties Cemetry, Co. Donegal in October 2015. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

John Hume at the burial ceremony of Brian Friel, at Glenties Cemetry, Co. Donegal in October 2015. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

The wife of former SDLP leader John Hume has said the 78-year-old is suffering from “severe memory difficulties” after being diagnosed with dementia.

Pat Hume said her husband first became ill in the late nineties at a conference in Austria. She said he suffered brain damage as a consequence of the illness.

“Unfortunately John is having severe memory difficulties at the moment,” she said. “He has a form of dementia. This started in the late nineties. John was speaking at a conference in Austria and he became very very seriously ill.”

She told Sunday with Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1 that the illness “hasn’t taken away all his quality of life” as Derry is a “very dementia-friendly city”.

“People love John,” she said. “He can go out for a walk. Every taxi in the place will stop for him. He’s extremely lucky that way. 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. 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.”

In terms of her own role as a carer for Mr Hume, she said it could be “very tough” at times.

“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,” she said.

“I am very blessed in that I have a daughter in Derry who is a doctor and she keeps a very good eye on him.”

Ms Hume also said the former Nobel Peace Prize winner does not like to travel too far from his native Co Derry.

“For a man who travelled the world non-stop, he doesn’t like being away from home now,” she said. “He loves Derry. He loves going down to Donegal because they’re very familiar to him.

“He doesn’t like going to Dublin. If he goes to Dublin now, he’ll say ‘right, we’ll go home now’ – and John loved Dublin and he loved Europe and America. Now he’s not interested. Amazing.”