This week the family of one of Huddersfield Town’s greatest players, Steve Smith, revealed he is living with dementia. Catherine Scott reports.
“He’s been a hero to Huddersfield and now I’d like Huddersfield to be a hero to him,” says Lisa Smith of her dad Steve who, it has been revealed, is living with dementia.
The former Terriers player, manager, coach and scout, who also played for Halifax and coached at Bradford City, was diagnosed with dementia five years ago his family has just revealed. But the 72-year-old’s two children have vowed to ensure he continues to live life to the full despite the incurable degenerative brain condition.
“It’s been hard to take because in mind he’s struggling big time but in body he’s as fit as a fiddle,” says son Gary who even had to get a GPS tracker to make sure he knew where his dad was.
The first symptoms of dementia emerged after Steve’s wife, Judith, died seven years ago.
“My dad has always been quite placid fellow who gets on with things but since my mum died in 2011 things took a turn for the worse,” says Gary. “There is the isolation factor as well which followed the loss of mum who he was with since school. That knocked him backwards a long way, he found it difficult to get over. Then I noticed that he was getting forgetful. He would ask you the same questions over and over again. I didn’t think much about it but then it started getting worse.”
Things deteriorated to the point that the family sought professional help and Steve received a formal diagnosis following a brain scan.
He continued to live at home and the family tried to make sure he maintained his independence for as long as possible but it was proving to be a strain.
“It quickly progressed to the stage we were more and more worried about him,” says Gary.“I’d take him food shopping with me but then I noticed that nothing had been touched, he was starting to forget to eat things.”
About 18 months ago things got got really serious and Steve was going out on an evening disorientated; he thought it was daytime.
“He’d go to bed in middle of the day, be wide awake in the evening and go out for a stroll in the middle of the night. He’d be wandering the streets; he wasn’t safe. Numerous times I had to go out searching for him and finding him up at Castle Hill was a bit scary. It wasn’t until we got a GPS tracker that I could actually pinpoint where he was. I was doing my best but it was getting incredibly difficult because I’ve got a young family myself and had to put all hours that God sends looking for him at night.”
Eventually, Gary and Lisa decided the “best and safest option” was full-time respite care as they mapped out the long-term future while he continued to do things he loved such as watch his grandson, Oliver, playing football for Kirkburton Rovers on Sunday mornings and playing a few frames of snooker at the local club followed by a couple of drinks “to keep him active and stimulated”.
But he found it difficult to settle into his new surroundings and after Lisa returned to Huddersfield from Austria, where she had made her home, they took him out of the home.
“He was in there a couple of months which initially gave me peace of mind because I knew he was safe and getting fed on a regular basis, but when I visited it was awful,” recalls Gary.
“No disrespect to those places and the people in them, it’s very unfortunate, but dad didn’t belong there. He did and he didn’t. He’s still very fit and that’s what really frustrated him because he was seeing other people there that didn’t have the same capacity as him.
“Although his mind is suffering and he’s struggling, physically he’s fit and he wanted to get out and about, they went out with him occasionally but not as regularly as he would have wanted.
“He became more and more frustrated, so ultimately we decided just to give him a change of scenery and Lisa, offered to take him to Austria with her and they had three months out there.” It proved just the tonic Steve needed.
“Austria revitalised him and he came back in better frame of mind,” says Gary.
“Before he went it was as if he was thinking ‘if this is what the rest of my life’s going to be like I can’t be bothered’ and that was what was getting him frustrated.”
Gary and Lisa eventually found their dad a care home which was more suited to his needs and he has settled in nicely.
“There is a harsh reality and that’s that, sadly, you can’t cure dementia and it’s only going to advance,” Gary says. “But dad still needs people who are also still fairly physically fit that he can associate with and have a bit of interaction with. We’re going to have to sell his house to fund his care, which doesn’t seem fair because he worked all his life to enjoy a happy retirement. It really has been a challenge but you’ve just got to be positive, get on with it and make the best of a tough situation.”
Now Gary and Lisa are hoping that Town fans will rally around their dad and give him the support he needs to live well with dementia when they see him at matches.
“It’s important that people around Huddersfield know that dad has developed dementia but that shouldn’t put them off chatting to him,” says Lisa.
“I don’t want people to be scared of dementia because it’s not something to fear and it’s not the end of the world. The more we can understand the way these things work, the better we can adopt around them for the best welfare for everyone involved.
“A little bit more understanding about dementia, patience and kindness will go a long way to ensuring my dad lives well with the condition.”
Steve Smith will join people across Huddersfield at the Beaumont Park Memory Walk in aid of Alzheimer’s Society.Steve will cut the ribbon to get the fundraising event under way on Sunday, October 21 at 11am. Inspired to make a positive difference to the lives of people affected by dementia in his hometown, like Smith, former Moor End High School pupil Rob Stewart is organising the event.
If you can’t make the Beaumont Park Memory Walk, you can sponsor those taking part by visiting www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rob-stewart8
For further information about dementia visit the Alzheimer’s Society website: alzheimers.org.uk