Geoff and his wife Margaret, had been happily married for nearly 60 years when he realised that she was not acting her usual self.
She was becoming forgetful and couldn’t remember how to make tea and coffee. She started asking him the same questions over and over again and became increasingly agitated.
For Geoff, who met Margaret at a dance in 1956, and their two sons, Nigel and Neil, the following months were a testing time. Margaret seemed oblivious to her increased confusion and the family were unsure as to the best way to react to her mood changes.
Following a diagnosis of vascular dementia in November 2015, Margaret continued to deteriorate and Geoff felt scared and unsupported. He became a prisoner in his own home as he felt he could not leave Margaret on her own as she continually tried to leave to ‘find her parents’ who had died years before. He didn’t ask for help; he was so used to going everywhere with Margaret that even if he had the chance to go out he wouldn’t know what to do on his own.
Over time Geoff said he felt like he was ‘living with a three year-old.’ Margaret became unable to recognise the toilet and flooded the kitchen as she forgot to turn the tap off. They were going to bed earlier and earlier as Geoff realised Margaret wasn’t so anxious when she was there.
It was after Margaret had a short stay in hospital that Geoff realised he couldn’t continue to care for her at home. Life was becoming unbearable for him and so he made the painful decision to move her to a care home. He said: “I hope I have done the right thing. I feel like I am in mourning even though I haven’t lost her.”
At the beginning, Geoff visited Margaret two or three times a week but this dwindled as he usually came away feeling depressed and unbelievably lonely. He said: “I keep thinking Margaret will come downstairs in a minute and make me a nice cup of tea and then I remember that will never happen again.”
When he was signposted to the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline by his GP he was able to express these feelings to a qualified specialist dementia nurse. He also talked about concerns about alterations to Margaret’s medication following changes in her behaviour, which he felt were causing her to be sedated. Geoff felt that this medication had been prescribed purely for the benefit of the staff and so led to increased feelings of guilt for him.
Through their specialist knowledge and awareness, the nurses have been able to advise Geoff on the purpose of the medication and the positive effects it may bring, along with possible side effects. Through gentle discussion the nurses and Geoff were able to identify potential reasons for changes Margaret’s behaviour, the feelings of anxiety she may experience during personal care and so highlight potential benefits to the prescribed medication.
Geoff was able to identify that the decision to amend Margaret’s medication had been made in her best interests in order to reduce feelings of anxiety and possible agitation. Through the recognition that this had not been implemented for the benefit of the care staff he reported reduced feelings of guilt. The increased awareness the impact dementia can have on the brain and the need for greater periods of sleep, reduced his worries about Margaret being over sedated.
The overall result was that Geoff made plans to visit Margaret that afternoon and stated he was looking forward to seeing her and spending time with her which he had not done for over a week.
Geoff said: “I feel much happier and optimistic about future visits to the care home. The Admiral Nurses are super and really take the time to listen. I know that if I have a problem or concern they will always be at the end of the phone to listen to and advise me. Suddenly I don’t feel so alone.”