Murray was 76 years old when he realised that he needed to see his GP about problems he was having with finding the right words to say and remembering details of past events. He was referred to a Memory Clinic and assessed by a psychologist then seen by a gerontologist. More than two years later that he received a diagnosis of mild Alzheimer’s disease.
I had noticed changes in his memory and ability to find the right words five years before but, looking back, I realised that problems had started even earlier than that. He was always a teller of jokes and tales (both tall and true) but he had gradually stopped telling new jokes, although he still repeated old favourites.
It was difficult for some friends and colleagues when the man they knew was less able to take part in conversations so making new friends was not easy. We had to resign from our lawn bowls club. Murray gave up playing pennants and we played only social bowls, but a few players were very impatient and critical although some were most understanding and helpful.
Family and old friends were very concerned and very caring, but I knew I needed to connect with a support group. I needed to be able to discuss problems with others who would understand. I needed to air the occasional grumble when things weren’t going well and to voice some frustrations managing everyday situations.
The Alzheimer’s Carers Support Group provided the support I needed. At meetings we carers shared experiences about what had worked for one couple or ideas about what we could do. This gave us an insight into what might happen later on, so it helped us to anticipate problems and work out possible solutions. Sometimes we were able to suggest alternative ways of managing troubling behaviour. Our facilitator gave us information about where to seek professional help. Even if there were no solutions, there was always understanding information about problems and difficulties.
Through that group I heard of another social group for couples which met one evening each week to share a simple two course meal. This was followed by activities that everyone could join in. We played games such as dominoes or mini golf or listened to live music performed for our small group.
It was wonderful to be able to meet new people and make new friends in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding where nobody asked, “What’s wrong with him?” or belittled his efforts. Instead they encouraged his efforts and cheered his successes. We looked forward to our weekly nights out and to the company.