The harsh realities of caring for a partner with dementia are laid bare in a moving campaign (view here) recently launched by the charity Alzheimer’s Society.
A Coventry couple have opened their hearts about the devastating impact the condition has had on their relationship.
For many, a dementia diagnosis marks the beginning of an often-difficult transition from being in an intimate relationship, to becoming a carer – fulfilling the ultimate vow of staying together ‘in sickness and in health’.
By highlighting the changing nature of intimate relationships following a dementia diagnosis the charity shines a light on the challenges couples face and is urging its supporters to help it reach more people by donating to the cause.
The campaign features an emotional TV and radio ad, narrated by actor Colin Firth, which shows how dementia can change the dynamics of a relationship.
Andy Norris who lives with his wife Kim near Coventry, is all too aware of the impact a dementia diagnosis can have on a relationship. Kim was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia called Posterior Cortical Atrophy in 2021.
“In her late 50’s Kim had a few problems with her memory, which we ‘jokingly’ put down as simply an age thing! Kim then also had problems with her eyesight, and hand to eye coordination challenges.
“We tried new glasses and after several different specialist consultations, and an MRI scan of Kim’s eyes, we were given the devastating diagnosis that she has PSA (Posterior Cortical Atrophy), one of the rarer forms of Alzheimer’s. Kim was only 63 and still relatively young for such a diagnosis.
“Suddenly the whole dynamic of our relationship changed, we’d always had a loving, and caring marriage, but as Kim was slowly robbed of parts of herself, I had to step in. Even using the TV or radio became difficult for Kim.
“I metamorphosed into Kim’s carer. The first time someone pointed this out to me I was taken aback. I hadn’t consciously set out to be that. We’d both previously thought, like many people, that dementia meant a loss of memory.
“After the initial shock, we soon realised that we couldn’t beat it, or cure it, but mutually decided we wouldn’t let it damage our relationship. We would learn to live with it, rather than fight against it, and any subsequent challenges it might present, we would deal with together.
“Both in a practical manner, but also in the good-natured way we’d always lived our lives before Kim’s diagnosis. We look for the positive things and maintain our joint sense of humour. You have to learn to live with the cards you are dealt, and maintain your positivity, with a large sprinkle of love and laughter, despite the challenges we face now or in the future.”
Support for the campaign
Meanwhile, Mary McCartney, Sir Paul McCartney’s daughter, has taken photographs of couples affected by dementia that will appear on billboards from the middle March.
Talking about the photo shoots, Mary McCartney said:
“I’ve always been drawn to people and their relationships, focusing my photography on discovering those rare moments of unguarded, emotionally charged intimacy.
“That’s why I wanted to be part of this campaign for Alzheimer’s Society. To visually highlight these relationships and the cherished moments within – moments which become challenged due to dementia. I hope these images help to raise awareness of both dementia and the crucial work of Alzheimer’s Society.”
Broadcaster and writer Richard Madeley, an Alzheimer’s Society supporter, is also backing the campaign. He said:
“Alzheimer’s Society’s new campaign brings home how caring for a partner with dementia truly fulfils the ultimate marriage vow of ‘in sickness and health’.
“The campaign doesn’t shrink from shining a light on the harsh realities of living with dementia, while showing how love has its own extraordinary power to shine through the darkest times and uplift battered spirits.
“My mum had dementia so I know how tough it can be. She died before the illness fully progressed, but my sister and I had direct, personal experience of the growing challenges it presents.
“There’s a huge sense of hope that’s unmistakably transmitted by the couples involved in this extraordinarily moving campaign – and that’s directly thanks to Alzheimer’s Society. Because of their support, people don’t have to face dementia alone.”
There are currently 900,000 people living with the condition in the UK (with over 84,000 of them in the West Midlands), a figure that’s expected to rise to almost 1.6 million by 2040.
Judith King, Alzheimer’s Society West Midlands Head of Services, said:
“A third of us will develop dementia in our lifetimes, making it the biggest health and social care challenge we face. Caring for a partner with dementia is fulfilling the ultimate relationship vow but navigating your way through ‘in sickness and in health’ can be overwhelming.
“Our vow to people affected by dementia is that we will be there, we will provide hope, and we will help you climb those mountains. But we simply can’t reach everyone and that’s why we’re calling on the public to donate. This is not a problem that is going away – the number of people living with dementia is only going up.
“Our website saw a massive 12,000% increase in visitors following news that actor Bruce Willis was diagnosed with dementia. It’s a hugely useful resource for anyone looking to learn more about the condition.
“I would encourage anyone with questions and concerns to visit at alzheimers.org.uk to learn more and to donate so we can be there for even more people.”
In addition to a ‘relationships hub’ on the Alzheimer’s Society’s’ website where people can find advice, people affected by dementia can access ‘peer-to-peer’ support by visiting Talking Point, the charity’s online forum.
Richard Madeley added:
“Judy and I made our own vows all those years ago – to stick with each other in sickness and in health, not knowing what the future held, and not knowing what was or wasn’t certain, except for our unconditional commitment to the other.
“In a similar way, Alzheimer’s Society makes an unconditional vow to support anyone affected by dementia. But, of course, the charity needs funding to be able to follow through on that promise. So, I would really encourage people to visit alzheimers.org.uk, and then donate. It’s a fantastic cause and it’s never been more needed.”
Do you want to help the Alzheimer’s Society? You can donate here.