‘I Didn’t Think In A Million Years That He Would Have Alzheimer’s Disease’

Kim Davies tells Anna Moore that, although rob, her gentle giant of a husband, has only a few memories left, she is determined to create a special Christmas memory this year, for the whole family to share with him

Rob has always been a gentleman, a great big teddy bear. I met him in a nightclub when I was just 18 and what first struck me was how clean cut he was. He worked in construction and was 6ft 4in, but his clothes were always spotless and freshly ironed. Rob was old school. A gentle giant. He could turn his hand to anything and he’d give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. we laughed at the same things – and sometimes, we still do. And from the beginning, he worshipped the ground that I walked on.

We married in 1985 and our son, Junior, was born two years later. Our lives were full and hectic but we never wanted it any other way. rob wasn’t big-headed, he was down to earth – but he was a natural at every sport. He played American football for Great Britain, he competed in cricket, football, golf and angling – and encouraged Junior to do the same. in fact, Junior is now a school Pe teacher, which makes us both feel incredibly proud.

In 1992, we started up our own construction business – we called it Junior Construction Ltd after our son – and by building it up together, we managed to buy our four-bedroom detached dream home in Portsmouth.

Though we worked hard, we had fun too. Christmas was a massive event in our house as rob was such a big kid himself! Every December, we’d close the business for two weeks. we’d have music on, lights everywhere and invite everyone to join us – parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and anyone we knew who was on their own – sometimes i’d find myself cooking Christmas dinner for 20 people. After eating we’d all play board games. no TV, no screens on Christmas evening. Just lots of fun and more food!

It took two years to get a diagnosis for Rob – a whole two years where I knew something was wrong but couldn’t make people listen. There had been a gradual change. He’d lost weight, he was withdrawn. When I’d ask what was wrong, there would sometimes be tears in his eyes. You could put it down to stress from running the business – which I did at first – but it just seemed so out of character.

Rob would lose things too. His sweatshirt. His shoes. How can you lose your shoes? But when I’d mention it to other people, they’d always say, “Oh I lost my shoes too,” or “My husband does that all the time!”

It took quite a few visits to the GP before he agreed to give Rob a memory test. Rob failed and was referred to a specialist who gave him more memory tests, which again he failed. the consultant took a family history – Rob’s mother had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s aged 61, and had since died. Rob was then referred for brain scans.

Even after all this, I didn’t think in a million years that Rob would have Alzheimer’s. I was 45. Rob was 51. We were just too young. On the way to
hospital to get the results, I remember telling Rob jokily that he’d be in trouble if the results were all clear and this had been an act – but in the consulting room, the mood changed very fast. The specialist spent ten minutes talking us through the brain images on the computer. then he held my arm and said, “I’m so sorry to tell you this. Rob has Alzheimer’s.”

My world crashed down in the blink of an eye. I couldn’t speak. I just sobbed and sobbed. Rob also began to cry but I don’t think he quite grasped the magnitude of what we’d been told. i just kept thinking, “How could this be possible at our age, at this stage?” But i also understood how much our lives and future had changed.

Behind the scenes, I could not stop crying in the early months. I’d get up in the night, go into the garden and sob my heart out – but never in front of rob. i told everyone we knew and asked them to carry on as normal and not treat rob any differently, but we lost a lot of friends very fast. Some just didn’t know how to deal with it. they stopped calling and i haven’t seen some of them for about six years now.

Although I’ve read every book and used every online resource so I know what to expect, and am ready for the worst, each decline is still devastating.

Suddenly Rob couldn’t use the remote control. Then he forgot how to answer the telephone. we carried on the business for a year but Rob was so tired and making mistakes so we shut it down. We sold our house and downsized so I could give up work to look after him.

Now rob can’t tell you his date of birth, and he can’t do the everyday things like make a cup of tea, get dressed or go to the toilet on his own.

You live on your nerves and I cope by laughing. To an outsider who doesn’t know about Rob’s illness, there’s so much that’s comical. If the Pyramids are on TV, he’ll think we’re in Egypt. If I ask rob to put a plate in the cupboard, he might put it in the toilet instead. If I ask, “what’s the kettle doing in the fridge?” He’ll say, “I don’t know!” He’ll laugh, then I’ll laugh – we’ve got no choice.

Our son, Junior was in his last year of uni when Rob was diagnosed. He was devastated – his dad was his superhero – and I think, at first, he couldn’t quite believe it was true. Now though, he’s fantastic with Rob. He lives a few doors away from us, he has a wonderful wife and in March this year, their son Carter was born. It means everything to me that rob has become a grandfather.

Rob likes to stay in his little bubble – he doesn’t like to go out, especially at night – but when Carter was born, although it was dark outside, I was determined to get us both to the hospital.

It was a nightmare trying to persuade him but when we arrived, Rob looked at this baby and the tears just rolled down his face. In that short time, for that moment, he grasped that this was his grandson and it was just magical. I had to turn away as Rob hates to see me upset. He’s still that giant teddy bear. even now, when he looks at Carter, he can get quite teary and he’ll say, “He’s looking at me!” And i say, “That’s because he loves you!”
This Christmas, we won’t be having crowds of people round. We won’t have flashing lights or loud music as Rob likes peace and calm. For the past three years, I haven’t even decorated the house but I will this year because of Carter. It’s our first Christmas as grandparents and I want to get back to normal and make it special again.

Rob and I will be spending Christmas day at Junior’s house and I can’t wait. I’ve already bought Carter a little lawn mower he can walk with! We’ve been so lucky, so fortunate. we’re blessed.

When I feel anxious, when I’m low, I remind myself that I’m not the one who’s ill. I’m young enough to cope – physically and mentally. Rob hasn’t got many memories left but Junior and I have. We have photos all over the house to remind us of the best times, and we’re still making memories. This Christmas will be one of them.

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