BETTY AND DAVID'S REAL LIFE STORY
Betty and David met in the 1970s and have been married for 44 years. Betty is a very young looking 86 and David 83. Betty describes David as a true English Gent with a resemblance to the Duke of Kent! He has impeccable manners and has a calm, reassuring presence.
David enjoyed a very successful career in sales and marketing taking on managerial roles at numerous companies and finishing up at HMSO (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) in Norwich. He took early retirement at the age of 54 but as Betty recounts she told him he wasn’t going to sit on his laurels and play golf all day! And so, after taking a course in fundraising, he became a very high-profile fundraiser, raising millions for amongst others Norwich School, Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Society for the Blind. And not a couple to sit still for too long, in their spare time Betty and David travelled extensively making the most of timeshares in Scotland, South Africa, The South Coast of England and The United States where more often than not David could be found out on the golf course.
When he was young, David also spent time as a volunteer for the RAF and did so well that he was asked if he would stay on for an extra year. He was based on Christmas Island and in charge of organising the transport for of all the top RAF people. He travelled with them to Bali, New Zealand, and many other locations. Betty is sad that he no longer remembers this exciting time of his life.
Undoubtedly David’s experience in sales and marketing helped him with his success in fundraising. It was during this period, Betty said, that they began to have an inkling that something wasn’t quite right. David had to do a lot of public speaking and he noticed that he started to forget names during his speeches, and this troubled him. They went to see a specialist at the Julian Clinic in Norwich who couldn’t find anything worrying on his brain scan, but he had just received funding for some research into Alzheimer’s and invited David to take part in a research programme between Addenbrookes Hospital and the Norfolk & Norwich NHS Trust. So, for the next 12 or so years David had regular scans, none of which showed anything of concern. They moved to London in 2016 and this was when Betty noticed a significant change in David – he was still able to go out and about but began finding certain tasks difficult. After visiting a consultant in Harley Street and after another scan David was told that he had Mild Cognitive Impairment. Betty and David were then introduced to consultant Dr James Warner at an Alzheimer’s Event. He took David away for a consultation and this led to him finally being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2018.
Betty is sure that David’s love of sports including golf, tennis and bowls and playing Bridge helped to keep him healthy both mentally and physically for so long. Even when they lived in London, he would go out for a walk every day in Greenwich Park. It was after they moved to a retirement flat in Chelmsford, Essex that David’s condition really began to deteriorate. Betty recalls that the last year they were living there together was really tough. It was at the time of lockdown and David still loved to go out for walks but would take himself off at all hours of the day and night and so a special lock had to be fitted on their front door to keep him safe. It was decided eventually, on the advice of social workers, that it would be better for him to move to a residential home. Sadly, since last year his health has really deteriorated. When he first moved to the home, he was still able to walk 4 or 5 miles, but he got a UTI which wasn’t treated properly, and this led to a hospital admission and complications and eventually sepsis. He is now unable to walk or feed himself. He then caught covid and ended up in hospital again where he developed pneumonia. He’s been in and out of hospital in the last few months and twice the family have been called to be with him in his final stages but Betty says he still fights on. In the care home he’s stuck in bed or a bed chair that is too small for him - he’s a tall man and they’ve been waiting almost a year for the right chair which will have to be custom made. When he first moved to the home David took part in dance activities and the nurses commented on what a great mover he was. And although he now can’t walk Betty still makes sure he gets to these activities so that he can sit and enjoy the music.
Betty knows that there will be a massive hole when David leaves her. Her week is scheduled around his care and her time and energy are all devoted to getting his needs met. She frequently visits David and feels that she is constantly having to fight someone or other to get him the care and support that he needs. He can easily get overlooked because he can’t join in with any activities or speak very much. She understands that the home is struggling to get staff, but she’s frustrated that she must constantly check he’s getting properly looked after - from making sure that he’s eating to getting his nails cut. And she has to deal with the bureaucracy of his care funding on top of this. This all takes up so much of her time and energy and she herself is often in pain. But she’s grateful that she’s so on the ball – she feels that her 86-year-old mind is really that of a 30-year-old! She has some good friends nearby and meets them regularly to play bridge or for lunch. Otherwise, she says she’s happy with her own company and is pretty self-sufficient. She really enjoys watching TV and knitting and is very computer savvy.
Betty is hugely grateful for the help and support she and David and David’s two children have received from Barbara Stephens and Dementia Pathfinders. They have been there for them at every stage of the journey, offering practical support and advice and some light relief through meetings and activities. It was in fact through Barbara that the family were introduced to Dr Warner who diagnosed David. Betty is grateful that she has been able to talk to Barbara whenever she has had crises and she’s also been able to share her experiences at the Dementia Conversation sessions. David has always loved music – all sorts but particularly Jazz and so they really enjoyed participating in the singing workshops such as Sing! Together.
Betty says that David isn’t someone to say he’s fed up very often and nor is she, but he’s in constant pain and they both acknowledge that they’re having more down days. But for now, Betty is keeping on keeping on. Checking in on David whenever she can and making sure that his voice, through hers, is still heard.