www.news.com.au Emma Reynolds October 19, 2015
WHEN Margaret’s husband forgets who she is, she gently reminds him she’s his wife of 56 years.
But these days, he doesn’t even understand the word “wife”.
Kevin, 83, has had dementia for 15 years, and is losing his memory and language. Margaret, 78, helps him get dressed, cuts up his food and helps him shave. “In the shower, sometimes he remembers what to do, sometimes he doesn’t.”
While some find it upsetting to have to care for a spouse, the former Hoover manager says her husband “has never been a burden.”
“I love him dearly,” she told news.com.au. “He was my only boyfriend. We’ve always been close, we worked together and were together 24/7. We never had children.
“Other people find it more different because they haven’t been as close, they’ve been off living separate lives and are then called upon to do these very personal things. Some people with dementia can be very aggro. He isn’t, he absolutely lives in this second, he can’t remember two minutes ago. It’s an advantage and a disadvantage.”
As Margaret gets older, however, she worries about what could happen to Kevin now he wanders off around their neighbourhood in Ryde, North Sydney.
“We were going on holiday and I had the cases in the driveway and I’d ordered a taxi, when I got a phone call,” she said of the first time he disappeared. “In the 10 minutes I was gone, he had disappeared. I had to cancel the taxi, bring the cases back in and get in the car. He was a kilometre away. I called out to him and he had no idea why I was there or what he’d done.
“He goes in and out all day, brushing off the wall and looking at the flower garden. Someone once said, lock the door, don’t let him out, but he rattled the door and got very distressed. I thought, I don’t want to do that.”
mCareWatch’s SOS Mobile watch helps people maintain independence.
Peter and his brother Paul have invented wearable tech for the elderly.
They now use a piece of Fitbit-style technology called the mCareWatch, which tracks the wearer with a huge degree of accuracy. Kevin, once a reserved and shy man, will now wander right into people’s homes or back gardens. For Margaret, being able to see if he is at Number 42 or Number 43 is a great weight off her mind.
Her blood pressure rose dramatically after she retired in 2000 to care for her legally blind husband fulltime. When she had a fall once, he was able to help her, but he’s past that point now. “Some days he can do things, some days he can’t,” she says. She makes a point of keeping fit and eating healthily so she can avoid having to put him in a home.
The makers of the SOS watch personally showed Margaret how to use an iPhone so she could track her husband. Some wearers can use the watch themselves. People who are elderly or have had a stroke use it to help them live independently, so if something happens they can press a button and the watch will contact their emergency numbers one by one with a location, on rotation until someone responds.
Brothers Peter and Paul Apostolopoulos invented the technology after their father had a stroke while driving. It’s the sort of futuristic gadget that will help Australia’s ageing population stay safe and healthy, with a built-in bluetooth function that can record blood pressure and notify professionals of changes. It has also been used by autistic children.
With no cure for Alzheimer’s, Kevin never sought treatment. “When I could have got him to the doctor, he wouldn’t have gone, and by the time he was sick enough, what’s the point?” asked Margaret. “Another carer at a lunch told me that when she’s explained something 20 times, she finds it very frustrating, whereas I’m a different personality. If he asks again, I explain again. I accept it.
“And every so often, he comes out with my pet name.”