Keith first noticed something was wrong with his wife, Laura, when she started having problems remembering how to play Bridge. She’d also given up German classes because she couldn’t remember the words. She was just 61.
Within six months she’d forgotten how to cook and couldn’t read a clock. Despite this Laura wouldn’t admit she had a problem or see a doctor, and became very hostile towards Keith.
According to Keith they “muddled through” for four years. Things eventually came to a head when Laura drove to a friend’s house unannounced four days in a row and he told her she needed medical help. She then agreed to see her GP who referred her to a consultant. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 66. The scans revealed she also had frontotemporal dementia, which affects people’s personality, appetite, ability to care for themselves and sometimes speech.
Laura was no longer allowed to drive and started wandering off, which was extremely worrying for Keith. A community psychiatric nurse mentioned the services of the former charity, YoungDementia UK (YDUK – which subsequently merged with Dementia UK) to Keith, but he thought he could cope and knew that Laura would resist any help. Within a year however, Keith was at the end of his tether and his GP insisted he get some additional help . Laura was introduced to a YDUK support worker who took her out shopping each week, giving Keith a much needed break.
As Laura’s illness progressed she thought that her mother, who had died 15 years earlier, was still alive. She often packed her bags to go “home” to live with her mother and wanted to go out to find her all the time. Keith became exhausted and a YDUK worker suggested he get some respite care. Keith reluctantly put Laura into a care home for a couple of weeks – his first break in seven years. When Laura returned home, Keith realised he could no longer manage on his own and decided she needed to be in a home permanently.
At first Laura couldn’t understand why she was in a home with lots of older people and she broke the door down. She’s more settled now, but twice Keith has had to pay for extra care to monitor her behaviour. Laura has always thought that there’s nothing wrong with her.
“Putting your spouse into a care home is always the last resort, but the prospect of a place designed specifically to meet the needs of younger people with dementia would be great, particularly if it offered respite care,” Keith said.
** Laura’s story is true, but her name (and her husband’s name) and image have been changed to protect their identity.