FOUR wrong turns were all it took for Robyn Wood to realise there was something wrong with her husband.
The couple had been travelling to their eldest daughters’ farm in Narromine every year for the past 13 years so the route was more than familiar.
“That was the first indication that something was wrong, then he was at the football and was coming home but ended up lost down the street, that’s when we decided to do some testing,” Mrs Wood said.
John Wood was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2006 and esophageal cancer in 2010 and an eight hour operation to put a shunt in his neck saw a decline in his mental health to dementia.
The first six months that followed the diagnosis were the hardest as Mr Wood struggled to come to terms with his decline in brain function.
“Initially it was very stressful, the first diagnosis and testing was very stressful and it was quite hard for a few months until he learned to accept that he had a problem with his memory, he thought it was because he was dumb,” Mrs Wood said.
The couple decided not to keep the diagnosis a secret.
“I let people know because that’s one of the worst things, trying to hide it and to have people think nothing was the matter.
“You could talk to John about the weather and you would think there was not a problem because he could converse with you really well, but he could drive down the street and not remember where he put the car.
“That’s why I let all his mates and people know so that if they found him wandering they could help,” Mrs Wood said.
Mr Wood passed away six months ago and Mrs Wood credits the dementia with his ability to hold on for three years past expected.
“We think that the dementia helped him last longer with the cancer because he never worried about anything,” she said.
Mrs Wood was her husbands' carer for ten years and said watching her partner lose his independence was one of the hardest things.
“When we first came home the last time they said to me, ‘You’re the carer now, not the partner,’ but it’s a double-edged sword there.
“Your relationship changes but it doesn’t change, it’s a strange one.
“I know some people would find it very difficult, toward the end I was helping him shower and dress but I just thought that’s what you do, you do it for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, that was my job.
“He became really dependent on me, I think that happens in a lot of relationships, I saw it with my parents, when my father got old he was lost without my mum and our relationship was very much the same.
“It was very hard for him but I think he was very accepting of the caring part toward the end, he would just say, ‘Oh you’re a good girl, you’re a good girl,’” she said.
Mrs Wood talked frankly with her husband about death and said this helped them both to cope.
“We’d laugh about a lot of things, even with his dementia and the cancer he knew that he only had limited time so we could always talk honestly and openly about the fact that he was going to die.
“One of the funny things is that we ended up with three wallets because he would always plant them in places where we couldn’t find them.
“He had an old Ute and we could never find the keys, weeks and weeks later I found them, he’d put them in an old water pipe in the shed, another time I found them in a shoe box, just strange places.
“The biggest advantage was that he rarely ever got cranky but if we did have an argument it never mattered because five minutes later he’d forgotten about it,” she laughed.
Mrs Wood has attended a carers group since her husband received his diagnosis and found that the solidarity she found in others was a great pillar of support.
“I think to have other people going through that situation with you it helps because you can have a whinge to them about it.
“One of the things I learned pretty early was to have no expectations, because today he might be able to remember how to sweep the floor, tomorrow he might not.
“If you have no expectations, you don’t expect them to know where they’ve left something or what they’ve done then you don’t get disappointed as a carer, that’s one of the biggest things I learned,” she said.
September is Dementia Awareness Month and HealthWISE will run a free event at Kent House from 10am on Tuesday September 27.
An artwork by artist Gillian Erratt will be raffled on the day to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Australia NSW.
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