FAYE Mitchell knew something was wrong with her mum when she told her she was pregnant.

“I didn’t get the reaction I was expecting. We’d always had that lovely mother and daughter bond, but when I told her I was having my first baby I felt she wasn’t really there, like there was something missing,” says Faye. “We thought she had depression at first, then she had a brain scan. It was the memory nurse who said she was showing signs of dementia.”

Faye’s mum, Carol Mitchell, was 64 when she was diagnosed with dementia. That was six years ago, and Faye has had to live with the heartbreak of her children, five-year-old Summer and Taylor, six, never knowing the woman their grandma used to be.

“They have never known their once bubbly, caring grandma or had sleepovers at hers,” says Faye, of Pudsey. “It’s such a cruel disease. Imagine going to see your loved one and they look at you like a complete stranger.

“People tend to think dementia is something that happens to old people, but my mum was only 64. There are people in their early thirties who have it. And it’s not just a case of being a bit forgetful, wondering where you’ve put your keys. It’s a disease of the brain and it affects everything - your ability to walk, eat, drink and communicate.”

Faye became determined to raise awareness of dementia and contacted her children’s school to see if she could organise a fundraising event. “I was thinking of something like a coffee morning, but that would have raised a couple of hundred pounds at the most. I wanted to do something that would have more impact,” says Faye.

She contacted the Alzheimer’s Society and came up with an idea. “It started with a ‘dress down’ day at my children’s school, Pudsey Waterloo Primary. I printed off all the posters and we held it in January this year. The children and teachers wore denim for the day in return for a £1 donation to the Alzheimer’s Society. It was great, and we raised £12,500 - much more than expected,” says Faye.

“Then I thought, ‘Why stop with the just one school’ and, after approaching a number of other schools and businesses, it has snowballed. I called it Pudsey Does Denim for Dementia. Now I’m organising another day, for next January, and so far I’ve got 10 schools confirmed, including Dixons Marchbank and Dixons Music primary schools in Bradford, and about 70 businesses involved. We’ve got hair salons, travel agents, doctors’ surgeries, care homes. The response has been overwhelming.

“It’s now called Pudsey and Friends Denim for Dementia; I’d like to get as many schools in Yorkshire as possible involved.”

Adds Faye: “It’s important to raise awareness of dementia in schools because it touches so many people in some way. Dementia affects over 850,000 people in the UK. Hopefully we can help children to understand why their grandma or grandad might be behaving a certain way. The Alzheimer’s Society is working towards a Dementia Friendly society. If people are aware of this disease, how to spot signs of it and support people who have it, they can help people with dementia to live well with it.

“Fundraising is important too. Dementia research is underfunded; my aim is to raise money to help support people living with dementia now and to fund research to one day find a cure.”

As a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society, Faye has met people with similar experiences of dementia in the family. “Unless it happens to you, you don’t really know what it’s like,” she says. “I think I was quite blase at first, when Mum was diagnosed. I remember thinking, ‘It’s okay, it’s not cancer, it’s not like she has six months to live’. But dementia is so much more than forgetting people’s names. Mum never used to leave the house without looking her best, now she needs help getting dressed, standing and walking, and we have to use a wheelchair if she goes out. She hasn’t spoken properly for four years.”

Carol, 71, is looked after by Faye’s dad at home. “As soon as she sees Dad, her face lights up and she laughs,” says Faye. “Dementia took her away but in some ways, helping to care for her has brought us closer together. People often take their mums for granted, or moan about them. My time with Mum is precious, when I’m dressing and feeding her I feel close to her. I look forward to seeing her. We put music on and she knows the songs. As soon as she got up she always used to put the radio on and sing along with the music. It still sparks something in her.”

Faye would like her Denim for Dementia day to become an annual event. “The Alzheimer’s Society have been so supportive with us; they signposted us to groups and memory cafes,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping them raise funds as well as raising awareness of this cruel disease that affects so many people.”

l Pudsey and Friends Denim for Dementia Day will be January 24, 2020.

To get involved, contact Faye Mitchell on 07815 307782 or email: fayemitchell1@icloud.com. Follow Pudsey Does Denim for Dementia on Facebook or donate to justgiving.com/fundraising/faye-mitchell6

Emma Clayton