Frontlines: Living with Alzheimer’ disease

Maisie used to run a large office. Now she can’t run her own life as she has Alzheimer’s.

Maisie doesn’t accept her illness, and fights against her lack of independence. First in the firing line is her husband, her primary carer. He always left running the house to his wife. Now, in old age, he has to do it. Shopping, cleaning, washing, cooking, gardening, paying bills…he receives no thanks. Nothing he does is right. His loving wife is largely gone.

He has the bruises to show from trying to persuade her to take a bath, brush her hair, change her clothes which she would wear round-the-clock for days, or preparing the wrong meal because the food she chose a few minutes earlier was not the food she then wanted, or trying to persuade her to take her memory enhancing medication.

Everything is a battle. The hairdresser’s, the doctor’s, the audiology clinic. Maisie complains that people whisper and plot behind her back, but refuses to wear the £2,000 digital hearing aid which could help her join in the innocent conversations.

On his one day off a week, she complains to other carers about him, how he never does anything for her, how he has other women, and worse.

And yet this is a lovely woman, who has spent most of her life as a loving wife, mother and grandmother, and who cared for her mother when she had the same devastating disease. Where does that person go? Just the odd glimpse comes, until the strain gets too much and past and present, fantasy and reality become muddled.

Perhaps it would be easier if she had not been such an independent person with such strong views. Perhaps not. Now anything that is not to her taste comes in for a tirade of abuse. This can be as innocuous as women in high-heeled shoes.

Maisie is a mass of contradictions. She constantly wants to go out, but when she’s out she wants to come back. She tires easily but won’t rest. She’s an intelligent woman but nothing that she says makes sense. Unless it’s about the 1930s. She’s a former communist who sees George W Bush on television and thinks he’s a nice man who lives down their road and is quite left wing. For a moment, you could laugh. But only for a moment.

Jennifer Harvey is a carer and works with people with learning difficulties

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