“I didn’t want to be about anymore” – that’s how Harry Davis felt when he was first diagnosed with dementia, aged just 55.
Now aged 60, Harry from Greenmeadow has found a new lease of life and positive ways of dealing with the condition, which will affect one in six of us. And he’ll be joining others to share his experience and coping tips at a special Living Well With Dementia event at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre on Wednesday 1 July – see more details below
He said: “Everything ground to a halt when I was first told and I just wanted an end. But I’ve learned it doesn’t need to be that way – if you’re prepared to listen and accept help, there is so much you can do to help yourself. Life is so much better now.”
The first warning signs came when Harry’s family and friends noticed that he was becoming increasingly withdrawn and behaving out of character. He commented: “To me everything was still normal – but they thought I was behaving oddly. At first I was put on anti-depressants but then the doctor sent me for scans, which revealed the bad news. I had frontal lobe dementia. It was too much to take in at first and I didn’t really understand. But basically I had to pack in work and give up driving, which was devastating.
“In hindsight there were other alarm bells ringing, like I forgot to take off the handbrake on a freight train in my job as ground staff the railways. That was quite a costly mistake so I couldn’t carry on, but still in my eyes there was nothing wrong with me. It was sad and quite a shock because I had always planned on working until I was 70. Then I spent my spare time helping out the kids and driving about the grandkids.”
Although Harry’s long-term memory is still very strong, the short-term function is much more hit and miss. “Sometimes I repeat myself, but am not really conscious of it because I’ve forgotten I’ve just said that. I’ll also forget what has happened recently, but can still reel of things from years ago.”
His wife Pauline, who works as a ward clerk at the Great Western Hospital, has been very supportive and Harry now tries to take on the housework to keep busy and ease her workload. He said: “She is very patient and understanding, even though it must be very frustrating. We make a list for the day and I do things like ironing, gardening and some cooking. To avoid mishaps, if I get stuck I stop and wait for a bit of guidance. It works well and keeps me occupied, which is important. Making sure you still have a role and a purpose in life is essential.”
Harry still looks after his grandchildren and to stay physically active goes out for regular walks. He is also part of the weekly walking group for people who have been recently diagnosed with dementia. The group is just one of opportunities for extra support provided by the Forget-me-Not Centre, in Whitbourne Avenue.
It is estimated there are more than 2,000 people in the Borough living with a type of dementia – a disease of the brain, which affects the way people think, speak and do things. It affects people’s moods and motivations, particularly if the disease affects the part of the brain that controls emotions. Although there is no cure, there is medication and also lots of things people can do to reduce the impact and speed of its severity.
The event on Wednesday 1 July,11am to 3pm, at the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, features talks from people with dementia, information about work on dementia at Great Western Hospital, a Singing for the Brain session, and an opportunity to tour the theatre.
In the afternoon there will talks on what is dementia, finance and legal advice as well as dementia friends sessions and support for carers. Aimed at those living with dementia, carers and anyone who is touched by the illness or wants to find out more, all are welcome. To book your free place, please email email@example.com or call: (01793) 444685.
Cllr Brian Mattock, Swindon Borough Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “As we’re living longer these days, dementia is an increasingly common condition. It’s also an incredibly difficult illness to deal with because there are no obvious physical symptoms, but its impact can be absolutely devastating. The more we’re all aware of and understand dementia, as individuals, businesses and the whole community, the greater support and empathy we can show to those affected as well as their family and friends. I encourage anyone who is interested to join in the event, which promises to be full of useful information and positive advice.”
You can also find out more about dementia and become a Dementia Friend by going online at www.dementiafriends.org.uk