A former care worker with Alzheimer’s Disease tracked down an old school pal who’s a famous TV director to make a touching documentary programme to prove there is life after dementia.
Mother-of-three and grandmother-of-five Eirlys Smith, 59, from Menai Bridge, on Anglesey, lost touch with Tim Lyn, 58, who now lives in Llansteffan, near Carmarthen, nearly 50 years ago but she found him again on Facebook.
The result is a “hugely emotional and often hilarious rollercoaster of a programme”, Eirlys, Dementia a Tim (Eirlys, Dementia and Tim), made by Caernarfon-based television production company Cwmni Da which will be shown on S4C at 9pm on Sunday, January 26.
As part of the programme, they recreated a quirky and uplifting music video to a song by the Australian singer, Tones and I, which topped the charts in 30 different countries last year.
In the original video two friends come to the rescue of an old man sat in a chair at home and ends up with them enjoying a dance party on a golf course.
Eirlys’s version, also starring her family and friends, starts with her rising out of a hospital bed and sees her, clad in leathers, riding off into the sunset as the pillion passenger on the back of a high-powered motorbike.
Before making the documentary, the duo had last seen each other when they were in primary school together in Menai Bridge between 1968 and 1970.
Eirlys was diagnosed with early onset dementia just before Christmas in 2018 and she made contact with Tim in January last year.
He had gone on to become an actor and an award-winning director who has made some of the most popular and acclaimed dramas on S4C, including Tydi Coleg yn Gret? (Isn’t College Great?), Eldra, and Fondue, Rhyw a Deinosors (Fondue, Sex and Dinosaurs).
The message she wrote to Tim via Facebook in January last year was blunt and to the point.
Tongue in cheek, she asked him whether he wanted to follow her journey with dementia until she became “doolally”.
At first, according to Tim, he struggled to remember Eirlys but the request particularly resonated with him because his own father, David Lyn, one of Wales’s most eminent actors and directors who passed away aged 85 in 2012, had also been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
The documentary highlights the challenges Eirlys faces day-to-day and how she is overcoming them.
Eirlys said: “The main message I want people to get from the documentary is that there is life after dementia, and I plan to live it while I still can because there is good in everything.
“It took me time to get over the shock after I had the diagnosis. Then I started to accept it, because I can’t change it. I just have to do the best I can with the cards that I’ve been dealt. I still have difficult days, but I’m not going to just sit in the corner and wait to die
“My mum had dementia, and I’ve also worked with people with dementia so I know what’s coming down the tracks.
“My memory is unreliable on a day-to-day basis, so if I want something upstairs, I can go up and down the stairs 10 or 20 times. If I am going up to get my shoes, I have to keep repeating the word ‘shoes, to myself, or I will have forgotten what I want by the time I get there.
“I also used to work on a supermarket checkout and I would have to remember all the different prices and I didn’t have a problem with it. You had to remember the changes in the prices and I didn’t have a problem.
“My short term memory is awful but I remember more from a long time ago, including my school days.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m a failure. I get lost in my own neighbourhood, the place I grew up.
“I have to try to get out or I would just be a recluse, on my own in the house, and that’s not healthy for anyone. I’m scared of not knowing where I am.
“I wanted to do the documentary with Tim to see if I could rekindle happy memories from when we were kids. I also want to film something that shows that Alzheimer’s isn’t the end of the world, and that my life hasn’t come to an end. I don’t need to sit in a corner with a blanket over my knees.
“Filming the video was fantastic, an amazing feeling. I never thought I would be on the back of a motorbike ever again. I absolutely loved it.”
Making the documentary was an emotional experience for Tim because it brought back memories of his father whose career meant the family lived a nomadic life based wherever he was working.
David Lyn was the artistic director of Theatr yr Ymylon in Bangor when Tim was at school with Eirlys and he was instrumental in the development in Welsh language theatre in Wales.
Tim said: “My father was in a similar situation, and we buried him, and it broke up our family totally because he was the one person who kept us all together. I think Eirlys is the rock in her family.
“I was very close to my dad growing up and I went on to work with him so it was very tough when he got diagnosed with early onset dementia because he changed and became very difficult. My family is still suffering because of my father’s illness.
“When Eirlys got in touch on Facebook we hadn’t spoken for around 50 years. She was very anxious before filming, but she became a different person during it.
“I think filming the documentary was an empowering experience for her.”
Producer Sion Aaron, from Cwmni Da, said: “We are massively indebted to Eirlys and Tim for making what is a hugely emotional rollercoaster of a programme that’s peppered with pathos and hilarity in equal measure.
“It has given us a much better understanding of what it means to live with dementia which is very important because it’s estimated that one in three of us will develop the condition.”