Soul-mates for 40 years, Frank and Heila Hunt had happy plans for the next phase of their lives together, once they reached retirement. But everything changed when Heila was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 56.
Heila’s condition was diagnosed early, and the couple put everything on hold so that they were able to enjoy what time they had together. For Frank, that was the worst part about his wife’s illness – slowly watching her lose her memory, speech and other abilities.
What exactly is Alzheimer’s?
In short, Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease which gets worse over time, instead of getting better or resolving itself. As the disease progresses, patients lose their mental capacity and start showing behavioural difficulties, such as loss of memory and speech.
It’s the loss of mental capacity that’s the most difficult factor to deal with in managing Alzheimer’s, says Dr Lipschitz, a specialist physician in Osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and Geriontology based in Gauteng.
Carers often forget to care for themselves
Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is a 24-hour job. Tasks like dressing, showering, using the phone and eating become difficult, and then there are emotional issues to content with too. Aggression is normal, and often directed at partners.
Management can become overwhelming for partners or other family members, and a specialist frail care facility may become the best choice.
Frank looked after Heila at home for 4 years, but eventually had to move her to a frail care home when the effects of the disease became too difficult for Frank to cope with.
The emotional cost for carers is high, and being able to take time out to recharge and refresh is vital, as carers can become isolated and exhausted.
For family, the sense that a loved one is there physically, but no longer there as themselves, is often the hardest part to bear.