Wife tells of John Hume’s battle with dementia

John Hume struggles to remember day-to-day events, said his wife Pat
John Hume struggles to remember day-to-day events, said his wife Pat

The wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume, has told about her husband’s ongoing struggle with dementia.

Pat Hume, who spoke publicly on RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday with Miriam programme, said her husband first became ill in the late 1990s when he was speaking at a conference in Austria.

It is believed Mr Hume suffered some brain damage as a consequence of the illness.

In the wide-ranging interview with Miriam O’Callaghan, Mrs Hume spoke about her 55-year marriage which she has written about in a new book Irish Peacemaker, published by Four Courts Press.

She said her 78-year-old husband with whom she lives in Londonderry, “is having severe memory difficulties at the moment”.

“He has a form of dementia... It hasn’t actually taken away all his quality of life in that Derry is a very dementia-friendly city,” she said.

“People love John. He can go out for a walk. Every taxi in the place will stop for him... I can go for a walk myself. He can do his crosswords. He can enjoy the paper. So it could be worse.”

Mrs Hume added that her husband struggles to remember day-to-day occurrences.

“If John was speaking to you now and I said to him in half an hour, ‘it was lovely to see Miriam’, he would say ‘where did we see Miriam?’. He just wouldn’t know that he’d seen you ... So it really is very sad,” she said.

She added that her husband will not be attending the book launch in Dublin next week, as he “doesn’t like being away from home now”.

“He loves Derry. He loves going down to Donegal because they’re very familiar to him,” she added.

When asked if her own role as his carer is difficult, she replied: “It can be very tough. Especially at the end of the day, and you know when somebody asks you the same question 20 times and you’re giving the same answers, and it’s very hard to get up the energy to be pleasant, so it can be tough.

“I am very blessed in that I have a daughter in Derry who is a doctor and she keeps a very good eye to him.”

Mr Hume, the former SDLP leader, came to prominence through the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. He helped to found the SDLP and became its leader in 1979.

He was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his reconciliation work with then UUP leader David Trimble in 1998.