September is World Alzheimers Month. Below, a husband talks about his wife’s diagnosis and how it has changed their lives.
There are still many good days, moments the devoted couple of 60 years can enjoy ordinary moments they used to take for granted.
For a Marlborough husband and wife, who asked not to be named, an uneventful trip to the supermarket, or even watching TV and laughing together has taken on a special significance.
A diagnosis of Alzheimers for the wife earlier this year changed both their lives in an instance.
“It’s a real defining point, especially for the patient, I hate that word, but use it anyway.
“Once that word, Alzheimers, comes up, you’ve crossed the Rubicon and can’t go back. It took a year to come to terms with it,” he says.
Dementia affects nearly 80 per cent of New Zealanders in some way.
Early warning signs include forgetting conversations or denying they took place, repetition, misplacing items and forgetting where to find household objects.
There is a gradual decrease in socialisation and, latterly, confusion over family, time and place.
For the husband, looking back, the signs were all there.
“The first signs began about five years ago. She was forgetting conversations or that we were going out for tea and would say I hadn’t told her.
“I had a feeling that this was more than just forgetting things, something was out of kilter but as I didn’t really know what was going on, I had to find a way to adjust.
“The worst thing for me, apart from the terrible time my wife is going through, is that there are two of us in this situation. I’ve no experience with this and the impact is huge,” he says.
One of the first tasks he undertook was to contact Alzheimers Marlborough.
The support and information they have provided has proven invaluable, he says.
Almost 70,000 Kiwis are living with dementia. More than 170,000 Kiwis will be living with dementia by 2050
Dementia also impacts women at a higher rate, showing a 30 per cent greater prevalence.
In a cruel twist of fate, the slow progress of the disease in this case means the woman in question is aware of the changes and the likely course the illness will take.
“She’s aware [of what’s happening]. It would be easier if she wasn’t. Being aware and having to come to terms with it is the difficulty,” her husband says.
“Between 70 and 80 per cent of the time we can carry on a semblance of a real life.
“No two days are the same. There may be two days when it’s calm and everything is nice and peaceful. You learn to make the most of the good days.
“My wife still has hope from time to time and will sometimes think that she’s not actually as bad as she was.
“I can’t hope like that,as I know that this condition is irreversible”
Likening the illness to a photograph album that is gradually losing its pictures, the retired husband says routine is key when it comes to helping minimise distress.
Where once this committed couple were ardent travelers, the illness has effectively clipped their wings.
“Travel is an upsetter. Travel was a big and important part of our lives, it’s still something she sometimes looks forward to but also has the nouse to know that long distance travel is not an option anymore.”
Alzheimers NZ represents people living with dementia at a national level.
The organisation provides information and resources, advocates for high quality services, and promotes research about prevention, treatment, cure and care.
Being open with the couple’s children, all of whom live overseas, the couple’s friends and neighbours has helped.
There is no point in pretending it’s not happening, he says.
But having to be selective about what information he passes onto his wife has been “difficult”.
“The subterfuge is difficult. Sometimes you have to simply let them believe wholly that something that isn’t true is true or indulge in small white lies.
“I feel bad about that but after a while you get used to it, you do. What you’re doing all the time is thinking for two people,” he says.
Picking his battles has proven key.
“Sometimes at the supermarket we’ll end up with three items of the same thing, it doesn’t really matter if she’s happy.
“You need to choose your time to walk away. If there’s a hint of an argument, her focus narrows and becomes more self centred.
“I’m more often in the wrong now and the simple thing is to become the bigger person. The most important thing for me now as the ‘carer’ is to have time out to relax or indulge in another activity.”
“You cut your losses and give in if it doesn’t really matter,” he says.
The future is very much on his mind and ultimately, he knows there is no happy ending.
“I think about it all the time, it’d be foolish if I didn’t.
“You can’t make any definitive plans you can only take guesses. You do have to think about the ultimate; there’s no answer to that at this stage.
“I just have to keep an open mind; hope for the best but know to expect the worst. For further information, help or advice visit www.alzheimers.org.nz/marlborough or contact 03 577 6172.
Alzheimers Marlborough are holding a Memory Walk on Saturday 21 September, leaving the Munro Street Car Park at 10:00am. Registration is completely free and can be made prior to the day by phoning the office – 577 6172. Wear something purple. The Memory Walk is for people of all ages and abilities to remember family and community members that have been or are affected by dementia.
Fears of rodents reaching plague-like proportions could become a reality in the region as Marlborough feels the bite of a long, dry summer.
A lack of rain at the season’s end has created the perfect storm for the nasty critters.
A pest expert is warning the problem will quickly get worse if people don’t take action.
He warned the problem would not disappear unless urgent action was taken.
Spiderban Marlborough owner and pest control expert John Sigglekow says the “fully developed” rodent population has become a major issue early this season.
“People need to look at what they’re going to do around longer-term consistent maintenance for rodents going forward,” John says.
“As it gets deeper into winter, rodents are going to become more and more of an issue.
“As it comes into summer, it’s the devil in the deep blue sea.
“You come off the pitchfork and get thrown into the ocean with the ants and the cockroaches and the wasps and everything else that’s going to go berserk.”
John says a mega mast season, when plants produce a bumper crop of seeds and fruit, gives rodents plenty to feast on.
Five rodents can produce the equivalent of 75,000 droppings and 27 litres of urine within a year, enough to turn a roof space into a sewer, John says.
“Rat bite fever, Leptospirosis, there’s a whole lot of things you can catch from rats,” John says.
“If you get bitten or scratched by a rat or a mouse, you’re going to need some heavy antibiotics.
“Even cats and dogs that have confrontations with large, aggressive rodents are at risk.”
There are numerous known pathogens that can spread directly from rodents to humans and many more that can be spread by the mites, lice and louse the rodents are typically infested with.
Rat fleas spreading the bubonic plague is a widely known example.
The rodents are omnivores and also pose a real danger to native wildlife, not just eating birds and chicks but also in competition for the same food source.
“It’s pretty disturbing when you get into it,” John says.
He says the lack of rain meant rodents were not drowning in their burrows as they usually would.
“Also, because of the long hot summer that we had, very dry, without the necessary rain that was to come in later in that season. Which has meant that all the mice that would have drowned in the burrows, simply haven’t died out.
“They’ve all reached full sexual maturity and had their own babies,” John says.
He says Marlborough needn’t fear ‘cat-sized’ rats, but they’re “relatively large”, some of the larger rats can get up to 500 grams or the weight of half a block of cheese.
“It’s a big problem, not so much from a predatory point of view but more so for a hygiene and home maintenance perspective.
“The main thing is that you take the baiting around your property seriously so that you’re not just doing piecemeal.
The most common rats in New Zealand are the Ship Rat/Roof Rat (Rattus Rattus), and the Water Rat (Rattus Norvegicus).
Roof rats are incredibly good climbers
“It’s a busy old time for pest control probably for the next decade with the way the climate is changing” says John who will be selling rodent control gear at the Marlborough Home and Garden Show on 5 July.
A trio of new ambulances is set to start saving lives across the top-of-the-south.
The three vehicles were gifted to St John last week with one to be based at Blenheim, Richmond, and Motueka.
Territory manager Robbie Blankstein says ambulances no longer simply act as transport to the hospital.
“These are our offices – the days of working in a converted campervan are over.”
The highly equipped, lifesaving vehicles do not come cheap, however, with each ambulance costing $220,000. But the new additions were made possible thanks to donations from Pub Charity Limited in partnership with Northend Hotels.
Among the revolutionary features is an automated Powerload Stryker Stretcher, which will reduce staff injuries and fatigue.
“Our job is unplanned; we pick up multiple patients often multiple times per day,” Robbie says.
He says the new stretcher will mean 70 fewer lifts per day for ambulance officers.
“It is one of the many design benefits.”
The three emergency vehicles were blessed and dedicated at a ceremony in Nelson last Friday morning.
St John District operations manager for Tasman, James McMeekin, says the generous donations helps ensure local ambulance crews have the most up-to-date vehicles and lifesaving equipment to treat patients.
“No one knows when they will need an ambulance, but if, and when the time comes, you need to know you’ll get the right care at the right time.”
Pub Charity Limited chief executive Martin Cheer says for someone in distress, there can be no more comforting sound than a siren, off in the distance indicating help is at hand.
“Then come the men and women of St John – cool and calm under pressure responding with a confidence that allows a patient to focus on their own wellbeing.”
In the calendar year 2018, St John responded to 12,828 incidents in the Nelson Bays and Marlborough area, 33.3 percent of these were life threatening or time critical.