Wednesday, 22 May 2024

‘I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 55 – and all my friends shunned me’

In his early fifties life was happy for “laid back dad” and architect Gerry King.

He was doing well at work at his local council in Fife, Scotland, and enjoyed his role as a happy-go-lucky parent to three children.

But when his wife Trisha, now 50, noticed changes in Gerry they started to worry.

She said: “In my mind, yes I was always healthy.

“To be honest I never noticed anything but my wife and her dad noticed changes.

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“I’d be having a conversation with my wife and couldn”t remember what the hell we’d been talking about.

He added: “I used to think that she’d been arranging family get-togethers without asking me.

“But more important than that, I was changing as a person.”

Gerry, who now volunteers for dementia charities and runs his own peer-to-peer support group called STAND explained some of the personality changes he experienced.

He said: “I’d been a really laid back dad, got on great with the kids and had a laugh.

“But my wife said I was getting a lot more argumentative and belligerent.”

He noticed other changes too – including to his vision.

He said: “I was 53 when I started having problems with my vision and couldn’t judge distances.

“I was still driving my car at that point and couldn’t park.

“At work I was starting to have problems with my computer.

“That’s when I decided it was time to have a chat with the GP.”

At first the GP thought Gerry’s problems were to do with stress and depression – but after “failing miserably” on a memory test at a follow up visit the wheels were set in motion to get to the bottom of his issues.

After being “poked and prodded” for 18 months Gerry was handed the devastating Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He was 55.

He said: “Alzheimer’s never even crossed my mind – I thought it was a disease that happens when you’re old.

“My wife wasn’t surprised – but I was.”

Gerry was forced to give up his much-loved driving licence and had to retire.

But the biggest blow was when friends he’d had for 30 years turned their back on him.

He said: “I lost 32 years of friends and work colleagues – pretty much straight away.

“They just stopped coming around, stopped phoning.

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“I think a lot of that is due to the stigma of the disease.

“People who I thought would always be your friend – friends I’ve known for 30 years and thought they would be friends for the rest of my life. Well it didn’t turn out that way.”

In an attempt to prevent others going through a similar ordeal Gerry participated in the Let’s Talk About Dementia study, commissioned by KYN.

The study found that words like ‘patient’, ‘victim’ or ‘demented’ can ostracise those living with or caring for someone with the condition – and put fear into others.

Now Gerry finds fulfilment educating people on dementia – and reassures them that people with the condition can still live happy and fulfilled lives.

He said: “I have a completely new life.

“I won’t smooth over the cracks – for the first five weeks I felt absolutely lost and I did contemplate committing suicide.

“The end stage is quite frightful but there is a start and middle stage where you can live quite normally and can have a good life.”

He added: “Every day is an adventure.”

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