The tipping point for my wife needing a diagnosis of dementia

Pete’s wife, Di, began to show early signs of dementia in 2005, but it would be several years before she was diagnosed with the condition. Pete shares Di's dementia diagnosis story, including the symptoms and changes in her behaviour that occurred in the years following.

I met my wife, Diane (Di to almost everybody except her mother!) when she had just qualified from college in 1972. We became engaged in 1973 and married in 1975.

Di was a primary teacher for all her working life. She taught infants, ideally Year 2.

Children and parents alike warmed to her outgoing personality.

Di became renowned for her skill with young children - comforting those who found real school too hard whilst getting the best out of the high achievers.

Di at a wedding wearing a large brimmed hat and a purple pashmina

Di celebrating at a wedding in 2017.

Family connection to dementia

In the mid-1980s, Di’s father, aged around 67, was diagnosed with dementia. He went into a care home in 1989 and died the following year.

When her father's death certificate read ‘Alzheimer’s Syndrome’, none of the family had heard of it.

It is hard to believe now but it was only about that time this form of dementia started receiving publicity.

It was then that Di’s mother told us that her own father-in-law had also shown many signs so typical of Alzheimer’s before he had died in 1964.

Di was paranoid that she would develop Alzheimer’s and, in the early 1990s, went for tests – both NHS and private – but was reassured that she had no symptoms of the condition.

Showing signs of dementia

It was in 2005 that the first early signs of Di’s dementia (but only visible in retrospect) began to appear – conversations totally forgotten; decision to give up teaching to become a teaching assistant in 2007; repetition of questions and many others that the families of people with Alzheimer’s will recognise.

Friends and work colleagues didn’t comment at the time because, somehow, ‘it wasn’t right to’!

Di used to have to be reminded of parents who she’d arranged to meet after school and, as a teaching assistant, she often forgot what the teacher had asked her to do.

Di at a family get together in 2015

Di enjoying a family get-together in 2015.

Reaching a tipping point

A tipping point was reached in 2013 when a doctor friend told me, ‘You need a diagnosis for Di!’.

We started the process, but it took over six months to get this diagnosis, initially of ‘mild cognitive impairment’ followed quickly by ‘early Alzheimer’s’.

Meanwhile, Di was found to have a small tumour on one breast. Thank goodness, this was caught at an early stage, with an operation within a month of first diagnosis plus radiotherapy a few months later. 2014 was not the best of years!

Over the next three to four years, Di’s memory steadily worsened. In reality, I probably lost my soul mate then.

Gone were the endless stories of school, life in general and her anecdotes, most of which I knew anyway but always laughed at again.

Di’s ability to undertake virtually any multi-step task disappeared, so I started cooking, washing clothes, ironing and making coffee. Di became incapable of executing the steps necessary to find out what drink guests wanted, put the tea or coffee in cups and boil the water.

I photographed all her clothing so I could say, ‘What about these two together?’ and labelled drawers, all the things you’re advised to do when someone you love has Alzheimer’s.

Di having fun with water fountains during a Baltic Cruise in 2013

Di in 2013, photographed during a Baltic Cruise.

Changes in behaviour

Then, in July 2018 with Di aged 67, everything changed!

You’re told that these changes are gradual, but Di’s wasn’t.

One day, Di was calm and we had a loving existence; the next she was agitated and, over time, prone to be aggressive.

Very quickly she ‘wasn’t married to me’ and ‘didn’t live in this house’, which had been our home for 31 years. She often wanted to go to bed around 4pm but would then get up at 11pm and stay in the sitting room all night.

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

Seeking additional support

Di wouldn’t wash or change her clothes and got aggressive with me when I tried to persuade her.

Carers came in, against Di’s will, to try to persuade her – some were successful, others not!

In February 2019, I persuaded Di to go to our local care home so that I could have some respite.

She went once for about five hours but for the second visit, she was resistant, not wanting to get in the car or walk. I finally persuaded her, after first asking my supportive daughter Rachael to come from work to help.

Holding hands, together

Di has continued to deteriorate mentally but is reasonably good physically.

She can’t really talk but makes a noise as if she is trying to. Just occasionally, I get a word or two, like an audible ‘You’ when I ask what she’s looking at or ‘Oh gosh!’ when I told her that she was 70 next week! But words are rare, and she often doesn’t look at me or respond during my three-times-a-week visits.

I hold her hand, tell her what I’ve been up to and sometimes just sit there with her. I do bring her chocolate treats, which she can sometimes feed to herself although more often she wants me to.

She doesn’t appear to process sight well and, I believe, hallucinates. She now can’t walk, feed herself, wash and clean herself – in fact, her wonderful carers do virtually everything for her.

People whose loved ones have been admitted to care and nursing homes often say that there’s a crunch point when they know that they can’t cope anymore – I understand that feeling.

If you are worried about memory problems, we are here for you.

Call our Dementia Connect support line advisers on 0333 150 3456 - they will listen to your situation and provide dementia information, advice and support.

Learn more about dementia

This World Alzheimer’s Month, we are encouraging everyone to ‘know dementia, know Alzheimer’s’, to recognise the signs and symptoms and to reach out for help.

Symptoms of dementia
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Hi Friends,
I’m Alan Thornton (69 years old) and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the last few months. I’d known I had “mild cognitive decline” for over a year so it wasn’t too much of a surprise but I’d been hoping that my issue would be manageable over a longer time. I closed my business and retired thinking I’d make the best of things that way and also that I’d be fair to my former clients by not continuing in a reduced capacity.

I’m in the Atlanta, GA USA area and live with my Wife and grown Son who has moved in to help out.

The disease is more noticeable than it was when I was diagnosed a few months ago. Memory issues are increasing. I’d been a jogger for many years but now I’m a bit unsteady on my feet even walking.

I’m frightened by the prospect of further decline in cognition and usefulness. Perhaps some of you can understand that. It’s still sort of a shock.

Anyway, very best wishes to each of you and thanks for this space and for your companionship. Best regards, Alan

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I have just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it came as an enormous shock. My Husband, Daughter, Son and rest of family have been very supportive and I know they will gather around me. As for myself I wrote a ‘Mission Statement on a Wipe board and it hangs on the wall in our bedroom. I read it every day to stay positive and gradually I am accepting of what it will do to me. I have no other option, it will change me more and more and there is nothing that I could do which can change that. So rather than wallow in self pity I mean to live the rest of my life filing away the diagnosis and make the most of what I have now and will deal with the elephant in the room when I have to . To those of you who are in the same situation have you come up with anything that helps keep you going? As a ‘ newbie ‘ I have no idea as to how long it will take to change me but it will happen and I am scared. Positive feedback only if possible. I look forward to any worthwhile suggestions . Many thanks, I do hope someone out there will contact me.

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At the moment my dad lives with me and my family. He has vascular Dementia from 2019 his 88 year old. It’s very hard and sometimes I just want to walk away from everything. But that’s the easy way . And I owe it to my dad to stand by him in his last chapter. So I will carry on with the struggle for now knowing I am making a difference to my dad’s life.

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My mum is awaiting a diagnosis but it’s almost certainly dementia. She too is young (61) and was a head teacher until 5 years ago so very similar! She was starting to forget children’s names.
Dementia really does rob you of your loved ones.
Wishing you all the best x

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My husband sadly passed away in 2019 at 52 living with vascular dementia, he had a lot of other illnesses which can send his death. So I understand you grieve before they pass away, I’m now helping to look after my mother who has Alzheimer’s dementia, and due to covid and lack of interaction with others is advancing quite quickly now. It is hard to watch at times but we all as a family try to make memories with her. So take care of you as well as your wife.

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I believe my mum has deteriorated very quickly because of COVID. She has vascular dementia and the month before COVID was meeting friends three times a week for coffee and trips out. We knew she has vascular dementia and she did repeat herself a bit and seemed to not always recognise people she didn't know that well but it was very unnoticeable really. Now just a year and a half later she can't really talk, just a few words and then trails off. She needs help with everything and most of the time doesn't know who I am! My dad cares for her but most of the time she is just sitting on a chair all day staring at a tv which she is not following. At weekends me and my brothers see her but I wish I knew how much she knows about what is going on. Should we be taking her out more in her wheelchair for instance.

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Yes, do take her out. The feeling of being locked up and unable to go out means they often feel like they are in prison. So times outside are essential for their well being.

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Your story is very interesting, my mums been diagnosed with a severe cognitive impairment and is currently in hospital just getting over covid.

It’s so upsetting especially when she has now become aggressive towards us when we visit, her deterioration has been rapid due to covid so has been a lot to take in over a short space of time and as a family are devastated.

All the best to you and your family

Kind regards

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