Despite his difficult past and many health issues including Korsakoff’s syndrome, Dave Gibbons is focused on a more positive future.
‘It’s been a colourful one, without a doubt,’ says Dave Gibbons, reflecting on his eventful life and the many health challenges he’s faced.
Dave’s relationship with alcohol is central to his story, which he is very keen to share.
‘I’ve got no qualms over who I am, where I am or where I’ve been,’ he says. ‘I’m not ashamed of it, it’s who I am.’
Dave is from Halifax but lives on his own in nearby Bradford. His main hobby is listening to jive, rock and roll, and rockabilly music from the 1940s and 50s.
‘I like the more obscure ones, not your mainstream. People who didn’t make it into the charts,’ he says.
‘I used to have thousands of records but they got destroyed or damaged. Now I listen on YouTube.
‘I like to look as if I’m in the 1950s, hence the quiff!’
Dave also enjoys walking and cycling, following rugby and cricket, and spending as much time with his family as he can. He has four children and five grandchildren, with one more on the way.
Dave’s first job after leaving school was as a wire cutter.
‘I’d cut strips of wire to certain lengths for florists and clothes horses,’ he says. ‘I cut the metal bits that were used in sparklers in the 80s.’
He worked as a bricklayer for 15 years, before moving to London in his late 20s.
‘My mum had passed away and I was just getting divorced, so it was a difficult and hectic time,’ he says.
‘I think I’d had a bit of a nervous breakdown, so I went to London to see if I could right myself.’
Dave spent five years as a street cleaner in Hillingdon before returning to Halifax to work as a night porter and hotel security guard.
‘There was lots of partying going on,’ he says. ‘I was maybe drinking too much.’
Dave describes himself as someone who ‘suffered with alcoholism’.
‘I was a functioning alcoholic. I’ll admit it did take over my life,’ he says. ‘It caused me a lot of trouble with family, friends and the police. I lived on the streets for a while.’
It took Dave a long time to come to terms with the fact that he had a problem.
‘I like the atmosphere around drinking – it’s just I can’t drink in a social way. I don’t have a stop button. I don’t know when that last drink is,’ he says.
‘I still find it hard that other people can drink every day and I can’t. What’s the difference between them and me?’
Dave used to have blackouts that left him unable to remember conversations from the night before.
‘It got quite dangerous and I ended up in hospital,’ he says. ‘The alcohol people there said I had Korsakoff’s – I didn’t know what it was.’
Around six or seven years ago, Dave was diagnosed with Korsakoff’s syndrome, a condition that has many of the same symptoms of dementia, including confusion and memory loss. It is caused by drinking too much alcohol.
‘Korsakoff’s is a dangerous thing,’ says Dave. ‘You’re not only an alcoholic but you’ve got dementia problems as well.
‘I think awareness of Korsakoff’s is low. They might be the silent dementia people who only get recognition for their alcoholism. “Don’t bother with them, they’re an alcoholic”. I’ve had it all the time.’
Dave attended rehab groups for alcoholism, later gaining the qualifications to facilitate groups for others with drug and alcohol problems. He became chair of a service user group and gave talks across West Yorkshire about the importance of listening to the views of people who are using healthcare services.
Dave was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in June 2020, after some worrying incidents.
‘I’ve had a few house fires, because I’ve been forgetting when I’m cooking,’ he says.
‘I tried to put one of them out and ended up in hospital. After the last fire, the fire brigade got in touch with my doctor for me.’
Dave was also sometimes experiencing confusion and struggling to follow conversations. He visited the doctor in November 2019, who referred him to a memory clinic. He then had a home assessment and two brain scans, which led to the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
‘It was quite a shock, I didn’t want to believe it,’ he says. ‘I still find it hard believing it.’
It took a while for doctors to pinpoint the right medication for Dave, but he now feels that things have improved, though he can still sometimes display unexpected behaviour.
‘I have arguments with people who aren’t even there – it can be quite funny,’ he says. ‘If I didn’t laugh at it, I’d be crying at it.’
Dave enjoys attending a support group called Pathways, part of DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project), and two groups – one local and one national – run by Alzheimer’s Society. These give Dave and others with dementia the opportunity to influence our and others’ work.
‘We make sure places are getting dementia friendly by giving feedback on what we’d like to see,’ says Dave, who provided input into the refurbishment of his local Alhambra Theatre.
‘The Face it Together group in Bradford is all nice people, and I’ve met them in person now as well as Zoom, so even better,’ he says. ‘I find it hard when I first meet people to open up and be myself, but these groups have really helped me.’
Dave has lymphoedema, a chronic condition that causes swelling in his ankles, which affects his mobility. He receives support from private care workers, arranged through Atiq Hassan, the Society Dementia Adviser who also put him in touch with the groups.
Atiq also helped Dave apply for Personal independence payments (PIP), a benefit he now receives for people with a long-term condition who have difficulty with everyday tasks or getting around.
‘Atiq has done quite a lot for me,’ says Dave. ‘He points me in the right direction.’
Dave receives good support from his sons with the likes of shopping, and his neighbours also look out for him. He became more withdrawn, however, after a period in hospital with pneumonia in the summer.
‘I isolated a little bit from the groups and my family,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t feeling confident enough in myself to be sitting and talking with people. I think I were a bit down and depressed.’
‘Doing this article is another step to me getting back out there, getting my confidence back up.’
Dave also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and found life very difficult during periods of lockdown. He’s had both of his COVID vaccines and recently received a letter about booking his booster jab.
As we hopefully continue to emerge from the pandemic, Dave chooses to look forward rather than back.
‘I’ve got no regrets – I can’t do nowt about the past, so I don’t dwell on it,’ he says.
‘It sounds harsh, but if I worried about the bad things I’ve done in the past… I can’t change that. You’ve got to move on.
‘At the moment, life is OK and I’m looking forward to the future. My son has just completed his diploma for the building trade. There is gonna be some good times around there.
‘The Alzheimer’s diagnosis means I can now focus on my own journey with alcohol. There’s so much I can give back, if I stay sober.’
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