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Couple learning to live with dementia

Derek and Ros Forshaw
Derek and Ros Forshaw

Devoted couple Derek and Ros Forshaw have enjoyed many memorable holidays in Northumberland over the years.

So when they came to retire, they decided to leave their native Southport to start a new life in Belford.

But within a year of moving into their dream home, they were given the devastating news that Ros had Alzheimer’s disease, aged just 63.

“It wasn’t what we had planned for our retirement and it hasn’t been easy,” said Derek, 71, a former environmental health officer.

“The main thing it has prevented us from doing is taking holidays abroad because Ros’s condition causes her to experience high levels of stress and anxiety when she’s in a strange environment.

“It’s a horrible illness and I’ve come to realise that a lot of people just don’t understand it. They seem to think that it’s psychological rather than an actual disease, as if people with dementia can somehow exercise mind over matter, but it doesn’t work that way.

“So when Ros gets anxious, it’s difficult to change her thinking and reason with her, because it’s a symptom of her condition. We have two children and she even gets stressed before we arrange to visit them.”

The couple are hoping a new initiative will have a positive impact on their lives.

Side by Side is a service provided by Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading dementia charity. It aims to tackle isolation and loneliness by matching people living with dementia with volunteers who meet them regularly – usually once a week – to enable them to continue doing the things they love.

Derek said: “Side by Side would definitely benefit Ros. It would provide her with some extra stimulation. At the moment she doesn’t really have anyone to take her out on a regular basis, apart from me.

“I am the committee chairman of Alz Café, a support group Ros and I attend once a week, and I feel sure people there could benefit from Side by Side also.”

Derek admits that although Ros’s diagnosis in 2012 was a devastating blow, it did not come as a surprise.

She had suspected something was wrong long before then, but when she passed a memory test at her GP surgery she was temporarily reassured.

Derek said: “I suppose the disease must have been in its very early stages then. But after we moved to Northumberland we were determined to get some answers so Ros booked an appointment with her new GP.

“Obviously, the diagnosis changed our lives, but it hasn’t been all bad. We still do many of the things we would be doing anyway.

“And, perversely, Ros’s dementia has meant we have made a lot of friends that we would otherwise never have met.”

We retired to this part of the world knowing virtually no-one, and we know lots of people now.”

Dementia adviser Una Armstrong said: “Side by Side is a simple idea but has proved extremely popular in other areas – and now it is being introduced in Northumberland.

“We will soon be appointing a service co-ordinator and are actively looking for volunteers willing to give up a few hours a week to help someone living with dementia.

“We match people based on their interests. It can be anything from enjoying a hobby or pastime to taking a drive out in the country of just having a cuppa.”

For details about Side by Side, or about volunteering, call Alzheimer’s Society on 01670 813255.