Sally Direen says her and husband John’s lives have been dramatically changed since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about six years ago. Photo by Tim Miller
Memories are something people cherish, but when they start to
disappear it takes a toll on the person affected and the
people around them.
Balaclava School principal Sally Direen knows all about the
effect Alzheimer's has on the sufferer and the people who
love and care for them - her husband John first showed signs
of the disease about six years ago.
One of the first signs something was not right was when Mr
Direen - at the age of 58 - started asking the same questions
every 10 minutes, she said.
It was another two years before Mr Direen was officially
diagnosed with Alzheimer's - completely changing both their
‘‘It is really like you have lost someone; they are no longer
the person you knew, which is upsetting for them, as well,
because in the early stages they are aware of what's
happening,'' she said.
All cases of dementia were upsetting, but when a person was
still young and still had things to look forward to, it was
harder to take, she said.
‘‘We had plans to travel and do all these other things once
we both retired, things which we won't be able to do any
more,'' she said.
Trying to understand what was happening from her husband's
viewpoint was important in helping him cope with the disease,
‘‘After being asked the same question every 10 minutes, it
can be easy to say ‘I have already told you', but really,
what does it matter if I have to tell him it's Thursday over
and over again?''
Knowing things would get worse was a struggle, she said.
‘‘You just have to live in the moment and concentrate on what
is happening now and what will happen in a couple of years,''
Some things still brought a smile to Mr Direen's face, like
spending time with his old touch rugby friends, looking after
their dog Charlie or doing crossword puzzles, Mrs Direen
Being able to talk to other people going through the same
issues was a huge help and Alzheimer's Otago did a great job
helping people whose loved ones were affected by the disease,
Alzheimer's Society Otago manager Julie Butler said about 40%
of people who had Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia did
not have it diagnosed.
It was important for people to seek help if they started to
show signs of memory loss which seemed unusual, Mrs Butler
‘‘There is help out there for people who need it and people
shouldn't be afraid to talk to a doctor about what they are
• Alzheimer's Society Otago is still looking for people to
volunteer as collectors on Alzheimer's street appeal day, on
September 20. For more information call (03) 4716154.
- The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's
- People with Alzheimer's disease experience a gradual
decline in their ability to remember, understand, communicate
- About one person in every 1000 below the age of 65 develops
- There are about 48,000 New Zealanders with dementia - about
1% of the population.
- Only about 60% of cases are diagnosed or documented,
meaning many people live with the disease without getting the
help they need.
- by Tim Miller