Dementia has robbed us of a life together

Man tells how wife’s dementia has robbed them of their life together


Friday, February 24, 2012

A FORMER helicopter pilot said his wife’s dementia has ‘robbed’ them of their life together.

Mike Keller, aged 66, of Southway, is June’s full-time carer.

  1. SUPPORT: Mike Keller and wife June, pictured in front of her artwork

  2. SUPPORT: Mike Keller and wife June, pictured in front of her artwork

The cruel disease is progressively destroying her short-term memory and ability to communicate.

Mike’s mother also suffered from dementia, before she died aged 95 last year.

He told their story to raise awareness of the devastating condition.

There are around 3,000 people living with dementia in Plymouth. Numbers are expected to rocket by up to 40 per cent by 2025, partly due to an aging population.

Mike, a former builder and Royal Marine pilot with 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron, said: “I feel we’ve been robbed of so much. Dementia takes over your life. It makes you feel helpless.

“June and I no longer share a life. I am her full-time carer who just happens to be her husband. She hasn’t used my name in 18 months.

“Some of the books about dementia say it’s still the same person inside but I don’t think it is, not past a certain point.

“I miss our time together.”

June, also aged 66, was a psychiatric nurse. She started to show the first signs of dementia three and a half years ago.

It was a year after a fire at their Southway home, caused by an overheating laptop computer battery, which left June hospitalised with burns and severe smoke inhalation.

Mike said: “I thought I noticed a change in June but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just felt something was wrong, different.”

The couple’s GP referred June to a psychiatrist. After a brain scan, she was referred on to the Memory Clinic at Mount Gould Hospital.

Mike said it took around nine months to get a diagnosis.

After a mental test, they were told she had vascular dementia, the second most common form of the illness after Alzheimer’s disease. It is caused by problems in the supply of blood to the brain.

Mike believes it may have been triggered by smoke inhalation, or a brain haemorrhage June suffered 20 years ago.

She is now in the moderate to severe stages of the condition.

Describing the disease’s cruel progression, Mike said: “It started off with her speech getting a bit hesitant, she missed the odd word out. It became gradually more difficult to understand what she was saying.

“She used to be able to write down what she meant, but now she won’t.

“She repeats the same questions or statements over and over again. The answers don’t register.

“And she loses things like her cigarette lighter, glasses or handbag even when they are right beside her. She looks but does not see it.

“It’s quite amazing. There are still times you wouldn’t believe there’s a problem. Sometimes she can hold five minutes of conversation on the phone and then minutes later she’s back to gibberish.”

Mike said June has also undergone behavioural changes, becoming more aggressive at times.

She used to play the piano and loved music but now refuses to play.

Mike said: “There was a time before I retired that I would get a map out, stick a pin in and we would go and explore that area. Now June doesn’t want to go anywhere.”

He said the couple now have a good care support but it has been a battle to secure help.

June goes to day care twice a week, home care, attends craft sessions where she creates pictures and pottery figures, and goes to Tai Chi sessions with Plymouth Age Concern.

Mike has become an Alzheimer’s Society volunteer, and helps run the city centre Memory Cafe.

“You want to do it all yourself and reject help but that’s not a good idea,” he said “The stress creeps up on you. Carers call it ‘burn-out’.

“I want to be more involved in carers support because I think there’s a gap. There’s lots of things out there but it’s taken me four years to get a good care package together.

“Trying to find out information can be a nightmare. You can understand why some people give up.

“It sometimes feel like you’re knocking your head on a brick wall and you have to keep on knocking.”

Mike and June have been together for 18 years. They have four children and seven grandchildren between them from previous marriages.

Mike’s mother died in Bristol last year after a long battle against multi-infarct dementia (MID), which is caused by a series of small strokes.

He said: “I have no illusions about the future but I am determined she will stay in this house as long as possible.”

The Alzheimer’s Society released new figures this week estimating there are 3,132 people living with dementia in Plymouth.

The charity believes only 39.5 per cent of people have received a diagnosis.

This leaves 1,895 people struggling without the benefits, drug treatments and support that comes after a diagnosis. People who are worried about their memory can call the Alzheimer’s Society on 0845 300 0336. The charity’s Plymouth branch can be contacted on 01752 608900.

http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk

 

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