Rashmi Paun always had an impressive memory – he tells us how life has changed since his Alzheimer's diagnosis.
Rashmi Paun, a retired physics teacher in Brighton, has fond memories of growing up in Uganda.
‘It was a closely knit community,’ he says. ‘When my older brother got married, there were 2,500 people at the wedding.
You would pass by people and they’d ask you to come in. It was lovely.
Rashmi, now 77, enjoyed school and particularly maths and physics, which he seemed to have a natural talent for.
‘We had a Western education, and I was already enjoying physics and maths quite a lot,’ he says.
The place to be
Rashmi moved from Uganda to London as a teenager.
‘It was a common destination for many students,’ he says. ‘My older brother and some friends had already gone there to study.
London was the obvious place to go.
He studied physics at the University of London, eventually obtaining a PhD.
Rashmi had a ‘gay old time’ in London. He lived near Marble Arch – where Ringo Starr was a near neighbour – and fully embraced student life.
‘I hardly had to cook,’ Rashmi says, ‘We went out to eat at restaurants every night.’
Rashmi met his wife Maggie through friends.
‘They invited us to a party,’ Maggie says.
I said to Rashmi, “Where have you come from?” “East Africa,” he said. But what I really meant was where had he travelled from that evening!
Travelling the world
In 1974, Rashmi and Maggie moved to Canada, where his brother’s family had relocated after the dictator Idi Amin ordered Uganda’s Indian community to leave two years before.
By this point, Maggie and Rashmi were married and had had the first of their three sons.
They ultimately decided to move back to London because they preferred the lifestyle.
Rashmi worked as a secondary school physics teacher, later becoming Head of Science in a large Catholic girls’ school in east London.
‘I went into teaching straight away,’ he says.
It wasn’t always an easy job, but I enjoyed it.
After Rashmi retired in 2006, the couple bought their Brighton home and went travelling.
‘We’ve been around the world.’ says Rashmi.
We’ve also visited India many times, where my parents came from and I still have relatives.
When they’re not in more tropical climes, living in Brighton allows the couple to be close to friends and family.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017, Rashmi had begun to notice some memory problems the previous year.
However, he put these down to age.
I knew I wasn’t remembering as well but I thought, “That’s age.”
Maggie remembers one occasion when Rashmi accidentally paid their friends twice for some tickets.
‘It was lucky it was our friends,’ she said. ‘But it worried us.’
This prompted Rashmi to see a GP, particularly because he’d always had a skill for remembering things.
I still remember my 36 times table even though I’ve hardly ever had to use it.
Rashmi was asked to do a memory test and, although he scored well on the first attempt, the second indicated something wasn’t right.
‘It wasn’t as straightforward as doing the test and being given a result,’ he says.
‘But we gradually worked it out and I was told I had Alzheimer’s.’
Rashmi and Maggie have had to adjust to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis along with other health issues.
‘We’ve been all over the city and surrounds,’ says Maggie, ‘and travel further afield generally has become more difficult since Rashmi had to surrender his driving licence and I’m the only driver.’
A heart attack in 2018 and prediabetes means Rashmi and Maggie must manage medication and diet carefully.
‘He will often raid biscuits and say he forgets,’ Maggie says.
That’s the main reason why I developed memory problems, because then I can forget about it and keep eating sweets.
Maggie has had to take on more day-to-day tasks.
‘Rashmi used to handle all the finances, but it started to take him so long,’ she says.
I remember him sitting there day after day trying to do the taxes.
'It’s very much me doing that now, with help from our son. I also arrange everything.’
Rashmi still plays happily with his grandchildren, though they notice changes in his behaviour.
We never sat down and broke the news I had Alzheimer’s, but they noticed I was having problems, Rashmi says.
‘I think the most difficult thing for them is when Rashmi repeats things again and again,’ Maggie says.
‘For example, when we walk back from school, Rashmi will keep asking if they want him to carry their bags, even when they have said they’re alright.’
Rashmi and Maggie also participate in our Time for Dementia programme, which links people affected by dementia with healthcare students.
Meeting regularly outside of a clinical setting helps trainees to understand the everyday impact of dementia.
‘We did all three sessions last year,’ Maggie says,
Two students ask questions to find out what it’s like to live with dementia. They say it gives them good insight.
Grateful for support
The couple didn’t really know what steps to take after Rashmi’s diagnosis and appreciated help from various groups.
‘I still don’t really have a mental map of how it all fits together so we just find things out as we go,’ Maggie says.
‘Age UK also helped us get an allowance, which I didn’t know we could get. We’re very grateful for all the support.’
'Rashmi doesn’t really remember what he’s done in meetings but when I’m there as well I can see he enjoys it.
We have had fun with different visits and activities, including parties to celebrate Christmas and the coronation.
‘Now, the parties I remember!’ says Rashmi.
How can you help?
£30 provides two hours’ support from a dementia adviser, ensuring people like Rashmi have access to essential help and advice.