Coming to terms with the cruel blow of Alzheimer's
Tony Cramb's favourite chair sits empty – across from it sits wife Heidi on her matching one.
She contemplates what they once had – a joyous marriage of over 50 years, filled with laughs and travel.
Her eyes begin to fill with tears as she begins to talk about what robbed her of that happiness – Alzheimer's disease.
She presses a handkerchief to her eye.
"You are losing the person you love. For me, I've lost my one and only person. We don't have children," the 80-year-old says.
"He was my support and I was his. It's gone now and in its place is a man that looks likes the person I relied on, except now he's acting like a two-year-old."
It was 10 years ago that first signs of what were to come began – he was 68.
But it was when Mrs Cramb was packing to travel back to her home country, Holland, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2006 that it really became evident.
"I'd placed two suitcases on the bed – one for him and one for me. He kept emptying them and then he'd say, `Oh I just found this pile of underwear.' So I knew then, but I didn't want to acknowledge it."
They made the trip and when they returned went to see the doctor, who confirmed it was Alzheimer's disease.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, a form of dementia, a progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living.
"It's the toughest thing to explain to people who have had no day-to-day experience with Alzheimer's ... He'd ask me what day it was and I'd tell him Monday. Moments later he'd say is it Thursday? It goes on the whole day so you are on duty 24 hours a day. It doesn't stop."
And Mr Cramb, a psychologist, was no dummy.
"He was unbelievably bright – that is what is so unbelievable."
Two years ago that constant care became impossible for Mrs Cramb to handle on her own. She got sick and was hospitalised, meaning Mr Cramb had to be placed in a home – where he remains.
"People like us don't want them to go in to care. We feel helpless, useless, incompetent. You should be able to look after your husband. You can't.
"People ask if I feel guilty. But guilty is if I could have done something – but I can't. I feel helpless even now.
"People say it's easier when they die, and I think it is."
She visits her husband every other day – but it takes an emotional toll.
"Most of the time he does know me – but sometimes he gets confused."
"I'll take him on a drive and we'll have fun. But when I go to drop him off he'll say, `Oh, were you in the car?'.
"He's already forgotten," she says wiping away a tear.
The one thing that's helped her through is a monthly support group, arranged by Alzheimers Waikato. It brings together other Waikato families living with dementia.
"They [Alzheimers Waikato] have been invaluable. They're are an enormous help. I don't know how they do it."
July 16 marks the start of the organisation's annual appeal.
As well as support, Alzheimers Waikato also advocates and provides education for people with dementia and their family.
Currently around 4000 people have dementia in Waikato – and this figure is expected to rise to 6000 by 2021.
To help with their collection call Jane Kay on 079294042, or to donate visit alzheimers.org.nz/alzheimers-waikato.
Alzheimers Waikato is also holding a fundraising evening this Thursday, at the Glenview Club, with National MP Tim Macindoe as quizmaster.
Tickets are $20, with tables of 6.
For tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 079294024.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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