Our GP mistook my husband's dementia symptoms as stress from work

When Anne's husband, Armen was signed off work by his GP, they believed it was due to work-related stress. It was another four years before Armen was finally referred to a Memory Clinic and received his dementia diagnosis, thanks to the persistence of his family, who now care for him.

My husband Armen is 72 years old and we have been together for 39 years.

It took four years to get Armen's dementia diagnosis and it wasn't easy.

The obstacles included me, his wife, knowing nothing about dementia but somehow having a fixed idea of what it 'looked like'; Armen himself who felt fit and healthy, with a profound dislike of consulting health services about anything; and our well-meaning, young GP.

Two photos of Anne and Armen side-by-side, one from a few years ago and a more recent picture of the couple

Image caption: Anne and Armen have been together for almost 40 years.

Talking to the GP about struggling with work

In 2014, when Armen and I were both teaching full-time, he first went to the GP as he was no longer coping at work.

Armen was a brilliant maths teacher in a successful comprehensive school. Previously Armen could easily teach all the different elements of various A-Level courses. He used to be proud that other teachers would go to him to help with difficult A-Level questions. However, that was until he was no longer able to do so.

Our GP was clear it was the stress of his work.

Ofsted inspections! A new headteacher! A new Head of Department!

Armen was signed off work, never to return again, apart from one disastrous attempt to go back that he could not cope with at all.

Pushing for more help from the GP

I cannot believe that four years then went by before pushing for further help.

I was still teaching full time to pay the bills but changed jobs to be nearer to home as I was worried about Armen. He was still driving, walking his beloved dog, spending money like water on his credit cards, finding a whole bunch of new pals in a local Ladbrokes.

Then in 2018, the GP finally referred him to the Memory Clinic. It was our adult sons who pushed for this after a disastrous joint appointment when the GP told me, upon noticing I did not look happy, that in every relationship there's usually one person who takes on most of the responsibility and it's usually the woman.

That was unwanted relationship advice from a man young enough to be my son.

Armen standing inbetween his two adult sons, smiling with pride, with his arms around their waists

Image caption: Armen pictured with his two sons, Robert and Greg.

Referred to a specialist service for further tests

The Memory Clinic quickly referred Armen to the Neurological Hospital at Queens Square for tests and scans.

Meanwhile, Armen should have had an MRI head scan but he could not cope with it at all on two attempts. Now my big strong husband was claustrophobic and afraid of medical interventions. Finally he managed to have a CT scan with a mild sedative. This fear continues, a recent need to get blood taken was difficult.

Armen's appointment at Queens Square seems surreal. The doctor was very thorough and pragmatic. She offered him his potential diagnosis and said a more clear diagnosis could be reached by a lumbar puncture and MRI scan. Some people would want this, but Armen did not. He asked if there was any cure? Treatment? No.

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Living with dementia

Well, here we are four years later. This has been going on for eight years now. It's an enormous struggle.

It feels like Armen has always been a stranger in a foreign land. He was born in Egypt to Armenian parents, went to school in Cairo, then Cyprus. Next to university in Lebanon and finally in London, doing postgraduate studies in Maths.

Armen spoke fluently Armenian, Arabic, French and English. He now speaks only a few words of Armenian.

He's a somewhat lost stranger in the world of his dementia.

We cannot really go out for walks now as Armen is a bit unsteady on his feet, walks slowly. We go every day to a nearby park by car with our dog, but some days he forgets how to get in the car.

Oh it's not even the same dog, his beloved German Shepherd died in September and he did not really notice. We have an elderly rescue dog now.

Armen sitting on a sofa with a dog sat next to him, holding its nose close to Armen's face

Image caption: Armen with his beloved dog, Red.

Researching additional dementia support

In May, we were offered a package by social care of four hours 'sitting service' but it just did not work out at all.

Why would I want to say yes to a company that has had literally one client to date? When I rang another company, they directly asked if I was seeking a carers role.

Armen is generally still a happy person who nearly always still has a smile on his face, so I guess we are doing something right.

Armen in two pictures with one of his adults sons, smiling

Image caption: Armen is happy and often smiling.

But during the night, Armen is restless. He shouts and jumps out of bed, which can be exhausting.

I hope anyone reading our story will try to get as much help as they can from professionals.

Try to do this before getting too bogged down in day-to-day life that you cannot possibly be prepared for, especially if your daily life involves sleepless nights, incontinence and not having even a few minutes to yourself. Good luck.

Talking to your GP about dementia

Our guidance can help you get the most out of your conversations with the GP. We have a symptoms checklist that you can take with you to help describe the symptoms.

Read our tips


There’s just not enough help and advice & support for families. I lost my mum to dementia in 2020 November 14th . Took about 4 years before mental health team sorted a brain scan and my mum was diagnosed with vascular dementia and that was it . Couple of appointments with mental health team , only when I rung because I was concerned with changes . I cared for my mum with help from my family. Did sort some care but funding is rubbish . My mum used to get up after she was put in bed , I cancelled the evening call in end and did it myself, looking back now I’m so glad cherish the memories of every evening I put her to bed . luckily I had cameras fitted to help keep her safe & door senses did manage to get out during lockdown a couple of times has her wandering increased has her dementia was worseneing . So terribly sad to see your loved ones not know there home , and not know that things belong to them . I read as much information as I could about dementia and that helped keep my mum in her own home until the end . Sorry that your love one has this terrible disease, but please read , read as much as you can xx
I totally understand your story. My husband was diagnosed in 2013 and was and is still very physically fit. Wakening up at 6am after restles nights and asking what are we doing today. Loves walking but we are only home a short time and asks when are we going out!!! I know walking is good for everyone but im exhausted. This is only atiny bit of the puzzle. He loves company and most friends understand even though conversation is limited to a few phrases. He is now 75 and is getting alot worse i dread the next step. We have been,together since we were both 16 and married 53 years. I wish you all the best on this journey but know its a difficult one Take care. Xx
I also new about my husband for about 3years but when ghd memory clinic confirmed it.it was horrible. On the whole he's happy. But he has false knees and hips plus a compressed spine and now a weak heart. I have an amazing son who lives at home and is wonderful with his dad. The nightimes are the worst as he is now incontinent. I am up with him about 4 times at night. And sometimes he manages to wet the bed.. Also he talks slot in the night and sees things that aren't there .i go along with it and tell him not to worry as they are harmless. I love him so much We have been married 54 years .it's heartbreaking to see someone who was so clever and precise lose it . I'm so pleased I've found this site

Hello Kathleen,

Thanks for your comment. We're very sorry to hear about your husband, it sounds like a difficult time for you all.

It sounds like you might benefit from joining our online community, Talking Point, where carers and other people affected by dementia share stories, and offer advice to others going through similar situations. You can browse conversations in the community, or sign up for free here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-online-community

Also, if you're interested in sharing your experience with dementia, you can write a post for our blog, like Anne has. Please email [email protected] if this sounds like something you'd like to know more about. We'd love to hear from you.

Or if you don't want to write a post yourself, you can also share your story with us: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-involved/share-your-story Experiences like yours can help raise awareness.

We hope this is helpful for now, Kathleen.

Alzheimer's Society website team