one date Eric Wright, 84, never forgets is his wedding anniversary. This September marks the 60th anniversary of his marriage to Madge, 81.
But Madge admits that one day he may even lose track of that landmark occasion. She said: “He forgets dates, in particular.”
Eric smiles it off. “It can’t be helped.” He knows he has Alzheimer’s. It’s early days. Eric was diagnosed last year, after Madge reported her concern about Eric’s forgetfulness to her GP, who did a test, and then referred him to the memory assessment clinic’s more comprehensive screening.
The diagnosis came as a bombshell, but it’s Madge who has to pick up the pieces.
“I don’t really worry, I take it in my stride. It’s life,” adds Eric. “I’ve still got my marbles!”
The couple, who live in Marton, had discussed how they would cope if ever one fell seriously ill. One of their greatest fears was Alzheimer’s, having witnessed its impact on a friend, who died in a nursing home. “Her decline was far more sudden,” Madge adds. “Touch wood, Eric’s still doing okay. If we can just keep it at bay...”
High-profile sufferer Sir Terry Pratchett has called for a more concerted campaign to combat dementia and Alzheimer’s in the UK. Some sufferers are incredibly young. Leah Garfitt, 10, of Fleetwood, is one of only 500 people worldwide who have a rare degenerative disorder that causes dementia.
Eric has been Madge’s Mr Right ever since she first saw him, a dashing teenager in his Navy uniform, at what is now Blackpool’s Metropole Hotel. She was 13 when she left school and in full-time work by 14. Eric confesses: “I never went to sea, but girls loved the uniform!”
Their romance blossomed at the Tower, although Madge adds: “Neither of us were dancers, we just went to meet people and fancied each other.”
Both retired in 1988, Eric from British Aerospace, Madge from a part-time job at Marton’s Cottage chippy. Until recently, they had taken holidays each year, including long haul to New Zealand, where one of their two daughters lives. They were keen indoor bowlers, and lived life to the full. But Madge has been taking charge of more of the tasks Eric did. She has arthritis and glaucoma, and the gardening’s got a bit much, along with washing by twin tub, and carrying all the shopping.
They still enjoy an occasional meal out and a weekly game of cards or dominoes with friends. Eric used to like nipping out to place a bet, but Madge worries that he may fall – as he did twice before Christmas.
But what they do have are new friends who know what they’re going through. They attend a support group run by the Alzheimer’s Society Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre, for others affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia.
It’s part of a support network out to raise awareness in this, National Dementia Awareness Week.
Madge admits Alzheimer’s is a bit like the elephant in the room. Everybody sees it. Nobody mentions it. She hasn’t really discussed it any length with her two daughters, both grown up with their own “busy lives to lead”.
Today, Madge is speaking out for one reason only. “Alzheimer’s is still a taboo, there’s still a stigma attached, but people need to know more about it.”
With touching candour, particularly in a week when the Government has announced measures to cap care costs for elderly people, she admits: “It’s a scary business, you know, growing old. You worry more about the future than you ever did when you were younger. One thing I have learned is not to be too proud to ask for help.”
The society helps her cope. Eric’s grateful, too. “She used to shout at me a bit,” he admits. “It’s okay for me, but it must be hard for Madge.”
Madge admits: “I was getting short-tempered. Sometimes he’ll ask the same question over and over again and although you know this is what happens it can get really irritating, especially when you’re tired. And I was exhausted. Now I’m sleeping through.”
Local Alzheimer’s Society workers have also helped with practical and emotional support. Above all she values the one-to-one support, either by phone or in person, of the society’s dementia adviser Wendy Glassock, who’s at the house when I drop by and clearly part of the extended family.
“She’s like a daughter to me,” says Madge. “Which helps when you don’t want to burden your own daughters. There’s nothing we can to reverse Alzheimer’s, but Wendy helps us realise we’re not alone.”
Wendy concludes: “It’s all about quality of life.”