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HomeNewsHuman AffairsLiving with dementia – a carer’s journey: 1. Diagnosis

Living with dementia – a carer’s journey:
1. Diagnosis

My journey of caring for my husband, Stuart, living with dementia began with a trip he made to Monterrey, Mexico.

On May 21, 2018, I sent Stuart off at Sydney Airport for a week’s technical training in Monterrey as a presenter. As he went through the security, I asked Stuart: “Are you alright?” He didn’t answer but looked worried. I had a shiver in my spine. For a man who had travelled extensively around the world, something seemed seriously wrong. I was deeply worried too.

When I didn’t hear from Stuart as expected, I started to panic and called his hotel, the Crowne Plaza Monterrey. He hadn’t checked in. I contacted Alberto in Monterrey, the contact person for Stuart’s visit. Alberto checked with United Airlines and was told that Stuart was still in Los Angeles airport. Airline staff noticed that he was confused and airport medical staff examined him. He had a delirium. Alberto contacted Stuart. Stuart wished to return to Sydney.

When I spoke with Stuart, he was so excited to hear my voice and was convinced that I died in a car crash. I told him I was fine and looking forward to him coming home.

I asked airport staff to ensure that Stuart was escorted all the way from Los Angeles until handover to me at Sydney Airport, which he was.

Stuart came out of arrivals without his check-in luggage; he forgot to pick it up.

After claiming the luggage and dropping it off, I took Stuart to St George Hospital ED. He was admitted to the aged care ward, where the geriatrician confirmed that he had an episode of delirium. Stuart recovered quite well and was discharged after a few days. The geriatrician ordered various tests including a brain MRI and chest CT and made an outpatient appointment to see Prof. Smerdely.

On July 5 we received the diagnosis from Prof. Smerdely: Stuart had vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. My world shattered.

Although initially calm and quiet after the diagnosis, one day Stuart was suddenly very upset and said: “I have got a disease.” It broke my heart. I told him that I would go through this journey together with him, I made my commitment.

The sooner the diagnosis of dementia is made, the more we can do to support the person with dementia. My learning about dementia began as well to better support my husband.

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Throughout 2024 Alicia plans to share her experiences to support and empower carers and their loved ones. She welcomes your feedback on this column – please comment on Facebook, Instagram or X or email editor@ssh.com.au.

Read part 2: Learning and understanding

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