West Suffolk: Husband’s love helps keep Dorothy’s dementia at bay
Next week will mark the 63rd anniversary of when Bury couple Brian and Dorothy Atkinson walked up the aisle and pledged to look after each other in sickness and in health.
During the past six years of their long and happy marriage, that promise has certainly been put to the test after Mrs Atkinson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008.
Two years later, the condition developed into Lewy bodies (DLB), a type of dementia that shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Since then her memory has been deteriorating progressively.
Mr Atkinson, 86, who is supporting our Forget-Me-Not campaign for West Suffolk Hospital, said: “Dorothy can remember family history and things like that, but not what happened two hours ago.
“Her mind doesn’t think to do things – I have to tell her what needs doing and she constantly needs reminding. She will often ask the same question three times in a short space of time, but it’s important to have patience because I know she can’t help it.”
Both Mr and Mrs Atkinson have found help via a series of clubs held around Bury St Edmunds for people with dementia and their carers.
Mrs Atkinson, 85, attends weekly decaf coffee mornings at Glastonbury Court residential home, and the couple joined clubs held at the Memory Café at the Gatehouse day centre.
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On Tuesday afternoons five or six couples in a similar situation attend the memory club together.
Mr Atkinson continued: “The Gatehouse is brilliant because they hold different sessions for people with various stages of dementia.
“They get Dorothy doing things like playing board games and other activities to keep her mind active.
“On Tuesdays, we have our lunch together and then the carers leave the patients at the memory club while we have a 45 minute question and answer session with a representative from the Alzheimer’s Society.
“We also get to have a general discussion away from the patients about how they are going on.”
According to Mr Atkinson, the clubs have enabled his wife to remain as active as possible. They also give him a few hours’ respite which in turn helps him to continue to care for her at home.
He continued: “For some people in the group, it’s heartbreaking because their loved ones are at an advanced stage of the disease and they can no longer have a conversation with them. The Gatehouse sessions are great for Dorothy because they give her stimulation and when she is there, I can rest assured she is being attended to.
“From my point of view, it’s really useful to share experiences with other people who are in the same boat.”
Brian and Dorothy met in 1949 while he was on a lunch break from his job in the composing room at the Peterborough Standard newspaper. She was a waitress at the restaurant they visited and they married two years after in 1951.
On March 24, the couple will celebrate 63 years of marriage.
“Next week’s coffee club and lunch will be a bit of a celebration,” Mr Atkinson added.