"One minute you think Dementia is just a problem for the elderly, and the next you find yourself standing in front of the microwave unable to remember how to turn it on."
More than 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia - but Drew Garty didn't think he'd been one of them, at the age of just 58.
The former banker had retired from his full-time career after having two strokes, and was filling his days learning sign language, travelling, seeing family and friends, and spending time with his partner Simon.
But in 2017, Drew noticed something wasn't right - he'd been suffering frequent memory lapses, which all came to a head when one day, he was unable to remember how to use his microwave.
He was diagnosed with cognitive impairment 18 months ago, and is now living with dementia at a supported housing scheme in Salford - Amblecote Gardens.
This is Drew's story:
DEMENTIA AND ME - A BLOG BY DREW GARTY
I’m Drew, I’m 58 years old, a wheelchair user who was diagnosed with cognitive impairment 18 months ago.
But really I’m Drew, an outgoing, adventurous kilt-wearing Scotsman with an irreverent sense of humour and blessed with a large family, a huge group of friends and Simon, my boyfriend of six years.
The difference in the descriptions is important – one is what I am, the other is who I am.
All too often I am described (and judged) by my disabilities. I’m more than that. I am friendly, outgoing and optimistic with a life of memories behind me and many more ahead of me.
The 'Finding Nemo' moments
I began to suspect something was wrong around four years ago. My keen mind began to fail me at odd random occasions. Simon began to refer to me as ‘Dory’ (the Disney fish with the very short term memory). Despite being aware of the memory failings – wondering where I’d put my keys or that loaf of bread or my underwear – I dismissed them with excuses of being tired or a bit stressed.
The turning point was standing in front of the microwave and being unable to work it. The sense of frustration and fear made me realise I needed to seek medical advice.
Living with the diagnosis in lockdown
The diagnosis is still a devastating blow. My ‘good days’ are still quite frequent and it’s almost as though nothing is wrong.
Appointment times are a challenge to get right, wait a week for the next episode of a series? I can’t recollect the previous episode and how did that toilet roll get in the fridge salad crisper?
The pandemic brought a huge challenge to all our lives. Isolation and loneliness contributed immensely to a decline in my cognitive abilities. No amount of Zoom, FaceTime or Whatsapp makes up for the physical contact with a loved one.
The frequency of my ‘bad days’ escalated quickly. I kept trying to boil eggs to make egg mayonnaise and just couldn’t complete such a simple task. No matter what I tried I just couldn’t remember what to do. Four hours and several attempts later I gave up.
My home is in one of ForHousing’s extra care developments which means that I have 24-hour support from social care and health teams. This helps and gives me the opportunity to live in my own home and maintain a level of independence.
I was given advice to get routines going for my medication and appointments, set up reminders and make lists. These worked very well and I even set up ‘Alexa’ to assist the daily task of keeping me functioning. Alexa worked well until the day I couldn’t remember her name! I tried many names including some very insulting ones before someone on the television said ‘Alexa’ and she asked what she could help with.
The biggest advantage I gained was being honest with myself, my family and friends. At an early stage I met with a dozen of my closest friends and explained my predicament and also asked for their help in keeping my faculties intact for as long as possible. The support I get from them, Simon and my family is one of the biggest single factors in coping with all my health issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I am fiercely independent and stubbornly determined to do as much as I can for myself. The value of a conversation or a companion to accompany me to the cinema, theatre etc should not be underestimated.
Looking forward: or, how to find the fun in your own funeral
My humour and optimism are the rocks that often keep me anchored. I have dealt with the uncomfortable practicalities of Powers of Attorney and the Will. One of my sisters badgers me constantly with questions about funeral arrangements, scattering of ashes. All very necessary of course.
How do I see my future? Far from bleak. As we exit restrictions my bucket list is coming back in to play – the Wimbledon centre court tickets are booked for 2022, the next music festival is being considered, an art class is grabbing my interest. There’s nothing I can’t do.
Of course , my future will have to be thought of seriously at times but my humour will see me through the daily difficulties and the inevitable future.
I take a wicked delight in driving my lovely sister potty with my funeral arrangements. I play a game of ‘ fantasy funerals’ with my bizarre last wishes.
No weeping and wailing, my coffin is to be made of whiteboard where everyone can leave a message or picture on it – the naughtier the better. I’m to be buried in my kilt with a picture of Chris Hemsworth. My coffin is to be carried in by him, Gerard Butler, Dev Patel, Idris Elba, Henry Cavill and George Clooney. They are then to double as backing dancers to my final music of ‘It’s raining men’.
The wake is to have a dress code of Disney Princess and is compulsory for all men attending!
To anyone who knows me, these requests will be no surprise. You’re all welcome