Anna with her daughters Valerie and SarahAnna Abbandonato grew up in Italy where she left school at 14 to tend sheep on the family farm. After moving to Wiltshire with her husband Amadeo in the late 1950s she taught herself to read and write in English and worked at Hinchley engineering, and later at the delicatessen counter at Safeways. She always loved dancing and being in company. She and Amadeo went to ballroom dancing lessons and were members of the Woodlands Social club in Calne for over 20 years. They enjoyed walking with the ramblers, and Anna still loves a brisk walk today.

Anna was diagnosed with dementia in 2012 - a difficult period for the whole family who struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis. Her daughters Sarah MacCall and Valerie Wiltshire took the initiative to find out more about her illness, attending a Training Course for Carers run by Alzheimer's Support in Devizes. Wanting to give something back in appreciation of the course, Sarah, a professional gardener, volunteered her time to look after the garden at the Sidmouth Street day club. She writes:

"At this time my family were just starting to understand the implications of Mum’s illness and my Dad in particular was reluctant to accept that she had dementia and that there was no cure.  Grant, the club manager, hadn’t yet met my parents but he would always ask after them when I went in to do the gardening and I was struck by his care and interest and always left feeling that there was someone knowledgeable looking out for us and ready to listen to my concerns, large or small. 

"Initially, neither Mum nor Dad were keen for her to go to the club and whenever I told Grant of the frustration we were feeling about this he offered to talk to my Dad to help him understand the benefits for the whole family, not just Mum.  With Grant’s help and advice we persuaded our parents to visit the club and Mum has been attending for nearly 18 months now.  Without Grant’s persistence Mum would not have had access to the friendship and stimulation she gets from the club and Dad wouldn’t get the weekly break from caring which he so needs. 

Anna with Higby and Dave"Mum always enjoys her visits to the club but they are certainly enhanced when Grant and his dogs, Dave and Higby, are there too; “the lovely tall man with those beautiful dogs” as she calls them.  Mum hasn’t lost her sense of humour and Grant is always ready with a joke – often something risqué! – which she enjoys immensely.  Mum often tells us about the very natural way Grant talks to her as if she’s “normal” and how kind and understanding he is when she makes mistakes or is forgetful.  She also frequently talks about the dogs and how much she loves their presence at the club.  Not having had a pet for many years it’s a real treat for her to spend time with such gentle characters.  

"She has struck up a wonderful friendship with another lady Jean who I think is at a similar stage in her dementia .  She just feels so relaxed and doesn’t worry about saying something daft. Her GP told us that the club environment was better than any drug for Mum as it is just so socially stimulating and it really engages her.

"Alzheimer's Support's experience, understanding, friendship and humour have helped us all cope with what is sometimes a sad, confusing and lonely time.  The day club staff have given us reassurance that even in difficult periods, they are always there to offer vital support.  In particular Grant’s approachable, caring personality and his knowledge and enthusiasm for helping people affected by dementia have undoubtedly improved my family’s life and we are very grateful to be able to call him our friend and guide."