Since her very early 60s Bob Conner’s wife Pat has lived with Alzheimer’s disease. Here, as part of Dementia Action Week we hear about what is like caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
Bob described the moment he first saw Pat, whom he met at work. “She was drop dead beautiful! I asked her out and was surprised when she agreed - I was the envy of the department.”
The couple wed and became proud parents of Jacquie and Andy. After the children had grown up, Pat had a high powered job in a legal education department, which took her as far afield as Hong Kong.
When she retired at the age of 62, Pat and Bob looked forward to their next chapter.
The early signs of Alzheimer’s
Bob explains how he quickly noticed changes in his wife….
“She went out to the car one day and came straight back. She said ‘I know this sounds silly, but can you show me where the ignition switch is on the car?’.
Shortly afterwards Pat came home with a dent in her car, but had no idea where it had come from.
Bob explained she had driven into someone’s car without noticing and driven off. The person followed her and gave her a note with his details on. Pat forgot about the accident and the note, which Bob later discovered in the car.
This was the beginning of Bob’s journey, caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, which he did at home for eight years.
Pat became more and more forgetful, leaving on the oven and switches. She would lose the concept of money, paying for things with notes because she could not count coins, ending up with a purse full of change.
"Sometimes she would just give her purse to the shop assistant to take the money, or she would pick things up and not pay for them.”
Pat became very reliant on Bob. He adds: “She looked vague and was like a toddler, letting me lead her by the hand.”
One day Pat collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a pulmonary embolism. On her discharge from hospital the doctor asked Bob if he felt their home was the best environment for Pat.
When caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s ends – what’s next?
Pat moved to Sanctuary Care’s Brambles Residential Care Home, a care home in Redditch, where she had previously enjoyed pre-bookable respite breaks to give Bob a rest of his own. That was seven years ago.
Bob explains his struggles: “I can’t change anything in the house. There are still her belongings around and she is never going to be there again.”
Pat can no longer communicate verbally with Bob, but he makes light of the situation with a smile. “I can now waffle for England!”
Bob’s advice to other carers
Bob said nothing prepared him for how he would feel when Pat moved out of their family home, offering the following advice to fellow carers.
“When someone goes into a care home they are ok,” he says. “It is the person left at home that becomes the casualty because they had a 24/7 job. Now there is an empty house and you think ‘what am I going to do’.
“During your time as a full time carer you should really be considering what you are going to do afterwards. When being a carer comes to an end it leaves you with an empty life and you are not prepared.”
Bob has actively thrown himself back into socialising with friends at his motorcycle club, which has been a huge support.
Bob says: “I will get regular phone calls just to check I am ok. You can drop in anytime for a coffee and a chat. They organise events for carers and are just lovely people. They are very special. If you haven’t heard from anyone in a while the phone will ring and it will be someone to check how you are and say hello – it’s just fantastic.”
Bob is also committed to helping to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s among the younger generation at the college where he works part time, educating them about dementia.