Laughter, tears, grieving and sharing good times and bad has created a tight bond between four local women whose husbands have dementia.
Maria Radford, Fran Dovey, Elaine Weavers and Barbara Wilkins met a few years ago at a Dementia Auckland carer support group at Whangaparaoa library and were soon heading off for coffee together after the sessions.
Phone numbers were exchanged and when times got tough, or something funny happened, they would call.
There were leisurely lunches at the RSA and earlier this year a holiday to the Gold Coast.
After Barbara’s husband died, she moved out of the area to be closer to family, but she still sees the others regularly.
Maria’s husband Ray was diagnosed in 2011 and is now in Pinehaven Cottage resthome. Maria says she noticed that all was not well a while before the diagnosis. “It wasn’t just forgetfulness,” she says. “He lost confidence in things like driving.”
Other Alzheimers sufferers, like Elaine’s husband Barry, remain confident drivers long after their ability has declined. Elaine says she had to get a policeman to come and take former mechanic Barry’s driving licence away as he was determined to keep driving and had become a danger on the road.
Fran’s husband Ross died in January after having Alzheimers for more than a decade. Fran says while she has cried on Elaine’s shoulder, or over the phone many times, there have been a lot of funny moments too. “My husband used to clean his teeth with Deep Heat and would eat dog food. If there was potpourri on the table, he’d pop some in his mouth thinking it was a snack.”
Maria says Ray wanted to help around the house but would peg out the pegs on the line, leaving the washing in the basket. “He once took the recycling out and brought the bin back empty after spreading the recycling all along the pavement,” Maria says.
Elaine says times like that do make you smile, but not always. “It wears you down,” she says. She says among the information given to carers was that they have a long grief process ahead. “It was scary when the diagnosis was recent and they told you on a Carer’s Course what to expect,” she says.
There is enormous grief associated with diagnosis, and again when it comes time to put your loved one into a care facility. “You feel so guilty,” Elaine says. “Every time you leave after a visit you are really down.”
“You work your whole life and come to retirement age and can’t help feeling that those good times have been taken away,” Fran says.
Maria says caring for someone with dementia is a little like having small children, with a lot of frustration. At times it’s hard to keep it together and she says she learned to walk away when she felt anger and stress building up.
However, all the women say there is a lot of support out there – including the respite centre Platinum Community Care in Red Beach – and good access to information and support services through Dementia Auckland.
Info: www.dementiaauckland.org.nz, or phone 09 622 4230.