Dementia Awareness Month: Love stays, memories fade

Love and care: Oakdale resident Annette Sheen is a full time carrier for her husband, Garrie who has frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease. Picture: Anna Warr

Love and care: Oakdale resident Annette Sheen is a full time carrier for her husband, Garrie who has frontotemporal dementia and motor neuron disease. Picture: Anna Warr

In 2003 Garrie Sheen had a routine stomach surgery and he hasn’t been the same since.

His wife Annette noticed a distinct change in his personality shortly after the operation.

“He became very depressed and spent the next few years on anti-depressants,” she said.

“He had this powerful anger and a lot of frustration and after a while he became suicidal, so we pursued more help.”

In 2007 the Oakdale residents sought out brain specialist Professor John Hodges.

“We went to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for a few days for cognitive tests, MRI’s and PET scans,” she said.

“That’s when they found the frontotemporal dementia.”

This type of dementia affects the part of the brain which controls mood, social behaviour, attention span, judgement, planning and self-control.

Mr Sheen was also diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Since the diagnosis the 67-year-old is confined to a wheelchair and developed diabetes type 2.

It’s like living with a child but a child can learn things, a person with dementia just deteriorates. - Annette Sheen

Mrs Sheen said her husband’s disorder had changed her life immensely.

She said it was important for her to treat him like nothing had changed.

“There are so many different challenges now,” she said.

“In the last six months I have seen his memory start to deteriorate really quickly.

“It’s like living with a child but a child can learn things, a person with dementia just deteriorates. 

“But I don’t believe in wrapping him in cotton wool – he is human, he has emotions, sometimes they are distant but they are there.”

Mrs Sheen said being a carer for her husband meant spending time at home could be stressful.

“He loves TV and he will watch the same shows over and over again,” she said.

“I have had to paint our hallway three times this year because he bumps into it so much with the wheelchair.

“When you get older, couples tend to make plans to go out and do things together, but I have no one to help make those decisions.”

The Sheens have been married for 17 years and Mrs Sheen is dedicated to helping her husband live life to the fullest.

“He loves to travel, even if we just drive around in the car and he looks at the scenery,” she said.

“When he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease he said to me that he knew he was on a death sentence, he said, “I want to go out and see things even if I don’t remember it, you will remember that I saw it.”

“That was really hard to come to terms with.”

Mrs Sheen said carers should always take the time to care for themselves.

“Join as many support groups as you can,” she said.

“Garrie goes to respite care twice a week, it is very important, you must have time out for yourself.”

As a part of Dementia Awareness Month, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW will host an End of Life Planning and Care in Dementia forum at Western Sydney University Building, Blacktown Hospital on Wednesday, September 28 from 9.30am to 12.30pm for the general public and carers and 9.30am to 3.45pm for health care workers.

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