Banksia Grove couple share anguish of living with dementia


Mike Barry with Shih Tzu George.
Mike Barry with Shih Tzu George.

A BANKSIA Grove man and his wife have detailed the anguish of his dementia as a new study reveals those with the illness are twice as likely to be lonely compared to those without it.

Local resident Mike Barry (64), who spent most of his life working in local government management roles, explained the “indignity” of his condition was “a lot to bear”, saying it had been “a period of feeling hopeless, with nothing to look forward to”.

“I went from being focussed at work one day to being on the scrapheap the next,” he said.

His wife Vicki said the psychological, social and financial impacts had been enormous.

Mrs Barry described her husband as versatile and personable, but dementia had changed his social capacity in many ways.

The situation was made worse “by the insidious decline in function and the absence of a definitive diagnosis” in the early stages.

“Initially the biggest loss was letting go of work 18 months ago,” she said.

“The purpose of work and the camaraderie with his colleagues after 13 years as a respected senior manager was a huge loss.

“It took a long time for him to come to terms with the way he was exited from work.

“It also took a long time for family and friends to come to terms with the diagnosis which wasn’t helpful; even now, it’s barely mentioned.”

The couple’s Shih Tzu George had taken on an important role in pet therapy for Mr Barry.

He also had support from a close friend with whom he shared an enjoyment of trekking.

Household chores were another important factor to keep his mind stimulated.

Mrs Barry said she was fortunate to have a good understanding of Alzheimer’s, having worked in the health sector for many years.

She had reduced her full-time hours to part time to care for her husband.

“My coping skills are pretty good,” she said.

“It’s hard for me to contemplate the future; better to stay in the present.

“Life goes on and we are doing our best to make the most of each day as it comes, making adjustments as we go.”

New research would suggest Mr Barry is particularly fortunate to have a companion the ilk of his wife, with many dementia sufferers left to cope alone.

With September being Dementia Awareness Month, Alzheimer’s Australia recently released findings of a study into loneliness, which looked at 1500 participants.

It found people living with dementia were twice as likely not to see any friends, more than three times as likely not to have a confidant and almost three times as likely not to have a friend to call on for help, when compared with the average West Australian.

The results were not surprising to Alzheimer’s Australia WA chief executive Rhonda Parker, but they were “deeply saddening”.

“Unfortunately people with dementia and their carers have reported significantly fewer relationships and often also become isolated from friends and family because of their diagnosis,” she said.

“The unfair stigma associated with dementia sees a real lack of understanding amongst the general public, which in turn leads to this break down in relationships which are just so important.”

Dementia assistance

National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500