Memory-loss woman 'bewildered' by missing 20 years

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Media captionKay Delaney is slowly adjusting to a huge loss of memory

When Kay Delaney looks in the mirror, she does not recognise the woman staring back at her.

The wrinkles and the greying hair should not be there. When she recalls her reflection, they were not there.

In her mind, it is still the early 1990s and she is 34, not 55.

Miss Delaney, from Newton in Cambridgeshire, says she "lost" 20 years of her life following a fall in July last year.

What seemed to be a simple bump on the head turned into something far more severe as it became evident she was suffering from serious memory-loss.

'Massive shock'

She had sustained brain injury and retrograde amnesia was diagnosed - a condition which can causes sufferers to forget chunks of their lives prior to their accident.

In Miss Delaney's case, it was a 20-year period that included the birth of her youngest son, James, now 20. She recalls nothing of his birth or his life.

"I don't remember anything at all about my actual accident," she said.

"The first vague memories - and they are only very vague - are of being in hospital and wondering where my small children were."

She believed her son Kenny was seven, her daughter Sandy was two, and she was still working full-time as a care home manager.

"They started telling me the children were 27 and 23 - and that I had a younger one - a 20-year-old son," she said.

"When people started telling me what the date was, I thought there some sort of conspiracy going on. I didn't know why people were telling me such rubbish.

"Why would they say it was 2011?

Image caption Kay remembers herself as a 34-year-old but does not remember her children

"It was all a massive shock, something I didn't take in for a long time, and still have trouble with," Miss Delaney said.

'Learning to cope'

She admitted when she looks at her children she feels "bewildered".

"But they were strangers to me," she said. "It's like someone coming up to you in a supermarket and saying, 'Hello, I'm your daughter'.

"My children were little and yet these grown-up people were telling me they were my children."

With patience and time, she has built up what she describes as "this lovely friendship" with them.

"That's still how it is, and it still hurts. I mean, what mother forgets her children?"

Miss Delaney is unable to work as she also suffers from short-term memory loss and anxiety.

With the help of the Cambridgeshire branch of Headway - a brain injury charity - she is hoping that she can "fit back into the world".

As a "community client" of the organisation, she receives support and advice, and home visits as necessary.

Alice Everett, brain injury adviser at Headway said: "Retrograde amnesia... is very difficult to treat.

"A lot of it is actually learning to cope with the loss in your life.

"It may be that people can fill in the gaps but it's very unusual for someone to spontaneously regain the memories that they've lost. In some cases people do remember periods, though."

Image caption Miss Delaney (left) has no memory of her years managing care homes across the country

'Greatest support'

It is not just her children Miss Delaney is "bewildered" by.

Significant moments in history including the death of Princess Diana were "a complete shock" to her, she said.

Margaret Thatcher was still in power, she remembers. She is "confused that we have two prime ministers" and Tony Blair "is a complete mystery".

Flat screen TVs and credit-card sized mobile phones are all new to Miss Delaney.

"The whole world has changed," she said. "It's a bit scary at times.

"1990 was familiar and comfortable. The world is a frightening place now.

"But that's what life is at the moment and I've got to learn to accept that," she added.

"I will find something that I can do one day. I've got a family who've been very supportive and Headway have been the greatest support.

"They are going to help me so that one day I can fit back into the world."

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