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Rosie and Dawn smiling over afternoon tea

“The Fund’s Listening and Counselling Service helped me deal with my mum’s Young Onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis”



In Memory RAF Family

When Flight Lieutenant Rosie Brooks became a full-time carer for her mother unexpectedly, life as she knew it changed suddenly and her mental health was heavily impacted. The RAF Benevolent Fund’s Listening and Counselling service was there to support Rosie with the tools to cope with her emotions and no longer feel so alone.

Rosie, 37, served in the RAF for 10 years, working within various HR roles as a people operations officer and welfare officer. Throughout her career, she was posted to admin units at RAF Halton, Cosford, Cheltenham, MoD Main Building in London and Abbey Wood, and also spent six months deployed in Al Udeid, Qatar.

When Rosie returned from her tour in Qatar in 2018, it became clear that her mother Dawn was becoming unwell. After 18 months of doctors appointments and assessements, Dawn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at just 58 years old.

Career driven and working towards her next promotion, Rosie found herself now attending appointments and sorting paperwork to support her mother whilst her health deteriorated. Rosie recalled: “The last few years of my mum’s decline were utterly brutal. She suddenly went downhill in 2022; after initially living at home for the first few years of her diagnosis, she moved into Residential Care in March 2022. In September 2022, she then had a stay in hospital with extreme delirium; she started having seizures in May 2023 and was in constant distress and lost her mobility.

“I was emotionally exhausted and struggled to regulate my emotions. I was tearful all the time – if anyone asked me about mum or how I was doing, I would burst into tears. I knew I needed emotional support, a virtual hug and someone to tell me it would be okay.”

Rosie had become aware of the Fund during her time as a welfare officer. She said: “The welfare team at Abbey Wood were really supportive – they told me about the Fund’s 12-week Listening and Counselling service.

“From the first phone call, my counsellor was so kind – the first thing she said to me was you sound like you’re grieving. It helped me to release my emotions in a safe, sacred space with someone who just ‘got’ it. She was so empathetic, understanding, and was also on a caring journey with her mum.

“I think the counselling really helped me to process it and understand everything I’d been carrying was a really normal reaction to the situation I was facing with my mum.”

Speaking on the impact of the help from the Fund, Rosie said: “The support was so well-timed; I’m so grateful. It’s been a difficult journey, and nothing can prepare you for it. I never thought that in my 30s I’d be caring for my mum – you think you’ll be older and have more resources to deal with it by the time your parents need you. It’s been especially difficult because none of my friends can relate to my situation.”

She added: “Fortunately, I’m close to my brother and this whole experience has strengthened our bond; we’d both do anything to support our mum.

Rosie her mum and brother in front of helicopter

“It was really important to us to get mum out and about, making special memories doing things she had always wanted to do. We did a helicopter ride and flew over the fields close to home, where mum’s horse was and over her house – it was just magical. We also took her to West Midlands Safari Park, where she had a ‘VIP meet the seals experience’.

"Very sadly, my Mum, ‘Dawnie’, suddenly died from her Young Onset Alzheimer’s Disease at 63 years old, just five years post-diagnosis, after she rapidly moved into the advanced stages. Although during the final stages of Dawnies’ journey, Rosie was sad that they could no longer do the things they once enjoyed together, she found immense joy in the little moments when her mum was calm and responsive in her own way. She is also relieved that her mum is now at peace and free from suffering.

Rosie is now pursuing a transfer to the British Army to retrain as a mental health nurse and channel her own lived experience to help others. She said: “Being a full-time carer was so challenging, but the exposure I had to care work and mental health challenges has helped me to find a new career path where I can give back to others.”

Rosie said: “The power of the support from the Fund has allowed me to openly share my story. I’m so grateful for the help. After receiving counselling, I felt refreshed and like I could deal with my situation better. I can now talk about it without losing control of my emotions. I was able to show my mum love and be present with her during her final months of life, which was the most important thing.”

Rosie continued: “I was given a great gift through my experience of the Listening and Counselling service, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone in need. The sessions built on each other week on week. I could write things down outside of the sessions and go through them with my counsellor to reflect on my feelings.

“Overall, it was a really cathartic and therapeutic experience.”