A daughter has described both the struggle and the joy of a rare and remarkable side effect of her mum’s dementia which means she is constantly happy.

Maureen Barnett, 65, was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2003 and at one point the disease and medication left her unable to speak.

But her personality changed after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago, with her family saying her “happy switch is now on all the time.”

The grandmother, who worked in social services, was always friendly, but her family say the disease has left her constantly mellow and endlessly cheery.

Her daughter, Michelle Pattenden, 39, said: “Her happy switch is on all the time and she lives in a total state of mindfulness, appreciating everything.


“It has a great effect on us all. When I was growing up we had our fiery moments like all mums and daughters. She’ll tell me what to do, and I’d be a fiery teenager. Mum could have quite a temper on her and so could I – you know like normal.”

“She ran two business, she was an intelligent and career driven woman who knew her own mind,” she added. “Now she lives every day as it comes and in the same mood – she’s just happy.

“She literally appreciates everything. It’s wonderful. She goes for a walk and she points out beautiful flowers or trees.


“She absolutely appreciated everything – every single moment. It’s a state that we all try to achieve often can’t, but she can.”

Mum-of-two Maureen and her husband of 45 years Terry, 65, ran a cornershop and holiday business, before she started work in social services as a receptionist.

Around 15 years ago she started to become “over conscious” about things at work and went for tests and scans.

She was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2003 and went through a period of not talking at all and started forgetting memories. Once she was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she became more cheerful and mindful. Although she experiences short-term memory loss and frequent bouts of deja vu she mainly feels happy and determined to help others, Michelle said.

While her family are constantly inspired by her positive outlook, it can have its difficulties. “When her mum died in May she just had the same mood,” said Michelle, a hypnotherapist from Bridgwater, Somerset. “That can be difficult for members of the family. I’ve been through the tears, I’ve got angry, I’ve wanted her to tell me what to do as my mum, but I can’t do that anymore. We just have to enter her reality. She’s still a person, she still has valid thoughts and feelings. We can’t reverse it, can’t change the fact she has dementia, so we just have to adapt with her. When we let her talk, we see her confidence and sense of purpose grow.”


Michelle believes her mum’s attitude stems from her caring touch after a career in social services, where she would often be the first face families saw when attending the office.

“She loves to be helpful. The only way we can get her to agree to do things or go places now is to say, ‘it would be really helpful if you could do this, Mum’.”

Michelle raises awareness about dementia through a Facebook page called ‘Minding Mo’ about the experience of looking after her mum.

The family, including Maureen, are taking part in Bristol Memory Walk in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society on October 9.

Michelle said: “When I told Mum about Memory Walk, she only had one question, ‘Will it help people?”

“When I explained what the walk was about and what we hope to achieve, she said ‘then yes!'”


Louise Walker, research communications officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The unusual way in which vascular dementia has affected Maureen demonstrates the vast range of symptoms and experiences that people with dementia can have.

“We know that one of the common symptoms of dementia is personality changes, but this doesn’t always mean for the negative. Personality changes happen on a spectrum and everyone’s experience is different. People with vascular dementia more commonly experience low mood and even depression, so symptoms like Maureen’s are rare.”

“There are studies taking place to look more closely at these unusual symptoms, but research has mostly focused on the more prominent negative changes. There’s still much to learn in this area, so this is a really interesting story.”