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Column: 'The plans we made together are gone now, Alzheimer’s is a most horrifying illness'

Shortly after Derek and I married, I began to notice something was amiss. I spent a lot of time in denial… but then he got his diagnosis.

Teresa Dillion

I MET DEREK just 11 years ago. At that time, he was living in the UK so our relationship began with a lot of travelling back and forth. Then, in 2005, he moved to Ireland and we married just a year later and became each other’s second chance at love.

Shortly after that, I began to notice things funny things. We were losing stuff. Keys couldn’t be found and he’d forget where he left things but it was nothing major. I think I spent a lot of time denying that there might be something amiss. But then in 2008, I realised that things were just not right so we went to the doctor for tests and then to the hospital for further tests.

I remember the day of his diagnosis. It was a Tuesday evening and the doctor sat down with the test results and just said the word: Alzheimer’s. It was such a shock, Derek was just 59 at the time, a very young age to be diagnosed. But Derek and I still had time on our side for a while. We had maybe two years where things were still fairly normal and we both continued to work. He was a plumber by trade and very good at what he did: very particular, very precise. Around the house, he did everything, the painting and fixing up, tiling, and of course the plumbing.

I stayed in denial for a long time

He was so good at what he did and proud to do it so well. And I think because he could still do a majority of things, I stayed in denial for so long. But as the illness slowly pulls the person away, you begin to lose the ability to carry on with your normal life. I’ve often said, it feels like we are on a staircase. We go up two steps and stay there for six months and suddenly we’re knocked back ten.

No one really explains what this illness is like for those who are closest to the person living with Alzheimer’s. It’s a very big adjustment and your entire life changes. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has helped us in ways that I can’t even begin to explain. Most importantly they’ve given me time and some of the stress and pressure has been lifted off of me, even if just for a few hours. For that, I couldn’t be more thankful. On Monday and Friday, Liz comes down for a few hours to work with Derek. On Tuesday and Thursday, we go to Rose Cottage in Tallaght. Even though he is younger than the others, Derek loves spending time there.

It’s heartbreaking

At home, he still sits beside me with that same smile on his face and we take the dogs for a walk every day. Derek can still do little bits to help around the house but a dementia patient forgets what they have in their life. It’s just gone. You can try to make things happen and do things with them but it’s just not the same any more. It’s a most horrifying illness. I see a man who could build and fix anything unable to put a hammer to a nail. It’s heartbreaking.

He is my second chance at love but the plans and dreams we made together are now gone with no chance for us to do them anymore. We completed some of our bucket list, but we aren’t going to be able to finish it. While our love story is unique, our fight with Alzheimer’s is not. But The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has provided the support and care that we need. This Christmas, please support The Alzheimer Society of Ireland’s Memory Ribbon Campaign so that they may continue to help people just like us.

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Derek and Teresa

This Christmas, The Alzheimer Society of Ireland is giving you the opportunity to share your memories of a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia and to thank them for all the great memories.

Creating your memory couldn’t be easier. You can create a virtual ribbon with your own message and donation and hang it on our online Memory Ribbon Christmas tree by visiting our Facebook page or at www.alzheimer.ie .

Alternatively you can call into one of our Day Care Centres nationwide and pick up a Memory Ribbon Luggage Identifier or Trolley Coin Key Ring. All donations made will go directly to services in your local region such as your nearest Day Care Centre, Home Care Services and Carer Support Groups.

Read: Dementia set to triple by 2050 as disease labelled “global epidemic”

Read: Volunteers sought for study on stress levels among dementia caregivers

About the author:

Teresa Dillion

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