How I supported my husband as he struggled with Alzheimer’s

When my husband Terry* was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 69, our world changed forever. Keeping my vows “in sickness

When my husband Terry* was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 69, our world changed forever. Keeping my vows “in sickness and health” was not easy, but we coped with his condition together.

Terry had always been our “life of the party”. He could make friends with anyone, had all the best jokes and everybody relied on him for his strength and joy.

Our son Luke* inherited many qualities from Terry. Just like his father, Luke had a natural sporting ability, a big personality and a sense of adventure. Luke became an Army officer, and quickly rose throughout the ranks.

Before Terry was diagnosed, he and I were enjoying retirement together. We had a small unit near the beach, and regularly went fishing, walking and swimming. Our lives were bright and happy.

Looking back, I realise these were the “golden days”. Our son had grown up and established himself, our mortgage was finally paid of and we were free to enjoy life together.

Everything changed in 2012 though. I slowly noticed that Terry had become more vague and forgetful. He couldn’t remember important dates, or why he went to the store.

At first, we joked that retirement was sending Terry “batty”. Soon the jokes stopped though. When our son Luke came to visit, and Terry couldn’t remember his army battalion, I knew something was very wrong.

Together, Terry and I went to visit our local GP. We’d known Dr Smith* for at least a decade, and he could see the change in Terry too. My sunny, playful husband had become hesitant and withdrawn.

Terry had extensive tests. The doctors examined his blood, checked his liver and thyroid function, did cognitive assessments, looked at Terry’s concentration, problem-solving and counting.

My heart broke as I watched my husband struggle to remember the patterns in a deck of cards. I knew my answer before the doctors even had to speak.

“I’m so sorry, your husband has Alzheimer’s disease”, Dr Smith told me. My stomach sank, knowing everything in life was going to change.

As the months went on, caring for Terry became more and more challenging. He was still a strong man, so coaxing him into the shower or begging him to eat dinner became an ongoing struggle.

Terry eventually forgot where he was, even if we’d take a stroll to a familiar beach or fishing spot. He couldn’t perceive the space around him, so I had to take on all our driving for safety’s sake.

My husband lost the ability to write, so I had to pay our bills (something Terry had always cared for). Terry made increasingly bad decisions, so I’d find him in pyjamas by 3.00pm or eating food straight from the freezer.

I wouldn’t wish Alzheimer’s on anyone. It reduces your loved ones to “glimpses” of the lively people they once were.  It’s a gut-wrenching condition not only to have, but to witness.

Of course, I felt devastated and frustrated too. My husband had always been so “switched on”, that his decline felt vastly unfair. I routinely asked myself, “why Terry?” I was angry and broken, but my feelings had to come second to the needs of my husband.

Luke asked for a transfer with the army, and visited us often as he could. My son was worried about the impact that caring for Terry was having on me – both physically and emotionally.

“You can’t lift Dad into the bath”, Luke said. “You’re going to damage your own health”. I was adamant though. There was no way my husband was going to a nursing home.

After all, I’d made vows. “In sickness and in health, for better or worse, till death do us part”. Watching my incredible husband wither both mentally and physically was breaking my heart, but I would keep my promises.

When Terry forgot Luke’s birthday, I openly wept in front of him. In his mental state, Terry couldn’t understand why I was crying, but he gently wiped away my tears anyway.

“I love you Angie*”, Terry told me. He looked deep into my eyes, and I could see the old spark of my husband from days gone by. “Don’t cry please sweetie”, he said.

Terry and I stayed in that moment for a long time. I wept, he wiped away my tears and held me close, even though I don’t know how much he understood.

In that moment, I knew no matter how hard everything was now, I was grateful for the lifetime Terry and I had shared together. He was the most amazing partner and father I ever could have asked for!

When Terry passed away two years ago, it was “time”. His spirit needed to be free, from the body which no longer served him. I am still devastated by Terry’s loss, but I know that one day we will be reunited in Heaven.

My husband will not be defined by the last few years of his life, but by the joy, warmth and abundance he brought to everyone around him in his “golden days”. Goodbye, Terry my love.

Can you relate to Angie’s heartbreaking personal story? Is somebody you know living with Alzheimer’s?

*Names changed to protect privacy