When Carrie Mulligan is back home in her native U.K., she occasionally makes a special visit to a woman she loves dearly who has no idea who she is.
In a guest-hosting stint on BBC Radio 4's Best of Today show this week, the 31-year-old Oscar-nominated An Education and The Great Gatsby actress opened up about her 91-year-old grandmother Nans, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2004 and now lives in a care home in Wales.
"Every visit for the last seven years, she hasn't recognized any of us," Mulligan said. "When we leave, she won't remember that we've been there. But...there's a calmness and there's a companionship and these really fundamental feelings of being loved and being taken care of by people who, you know, family who really love you."
"We've had terrible visits where we've all ended up in tears but then we have the visits where something really magical happens," she said.
Mulligan said she and her family have tried to reconnect with Nans through music.
"She was a great lover of music and she taught me to sing and she taught me to play the piano and we realized that a lot of the times, just playing music and sitting with her was just the sort of loveliest time that we could spend with her," the actress said. "Music is something that has often comes around for people who have dementia that it's a way of linking to the past, it's a nostalgic thing, it's a calming thing."
Earlier this year, the Alzheimer's Society appointed Mulligan the first U.K. Global Dementia Friends Ambassador. The actress has supported the group for years and wants to raise awareness about dementia and the impact it has on its sufferers and their families.
"It gets tiresome hearing dementia being the butt of a joke," Mulligan said. "I think there's a general misunderstanding that in a lot of areas that dementia is a natural part of aging or it's just something that happens to you when you get older."
"I used to grow up hearing a lot of people referring to their grandparents having 'lost their marbles,' which is of course something that we'd never say about somebody who'd had cancer or heart disease," she said. "I think the understanding that dementia is a disease—it's a disease of the brain, there are lots of different kinds of dementia, Alzheimer's is one of them—and just spreading that awareness so that people really understand that this is a disease we have to fight."