‘Dementia is not the end. It is a new beginning where you do things differently.’

Whenever I see these words, I think of George Noke – the man who first brought them to our attention at Alzheimer’s Support.

George, a retired business manager from Melksham, died last month. He had dementia, certainly, but he died, in the end, of liver and heart failure before his dementia had progressed very far.

I first met George shortly after his diagnosis, when Alzheimer’s Support had just launched its campaign for better diagnosis of dementia in Wiltshire. Like so many people at that time, George had had to wait a long time to find out the cause of his symptoms, the tiredness, intermittent confusion, irritability and mood swings.

Unlike most however, and the reason I went to see him and his wife Ann, was that George was willing, indeed keen, to talk openly about his diagnosis. He understood from the start that this was something he could do, something that could benefit others and something where he, now, was the expert. He became something of a poster boy for our campaign, with his comments appearing on leaflets and his example being cited by our new team of Memory Awareness Volunteers as they took their Living Well message to GP surgeries and community groups across our patch of Wiltshire.

George with HigbyLike many people, one of George’s biggest worries after being told he had dementia, was that he would have to give up driving. He did give up, eventually, but not for another three years. During that time George proved time and again that dementia was indeed a new beginning.

He took part in research, first as part of a discussion group study with yearly follow-ups, and later on a medication study which was due to finish this summer. He loved being part of it, being involved in something positive and doing, again, what he could to help. 

He became a volunteer at our day club in Trowbridge, spending a few hours each week drawing out in conversation a younger man who attended the club but found it hard to engage. George had the patience and understanding the younger man needed – it helped him too, to know how useful he was being.

He was an active founder member of our new discussion group for people living with dementia, which stills meets fortnightly in Devizes to share experiences, discuss what diagnosis has meant to different group members, and generally put the world to rights.  

Just a few weeks before he died, and before any of us knew how ill he really was, he spoke in front of 120 care workers and dementia specialists at our South West regional conference on dementia social care. A short video of his conversation with my colleague Sarah Marriott is below.

For all his talk then of ‘bongo drums’, group activities had become important to him. The last time we saw George was when he came out of hospital, still in his dressing gown and slippers, to attend the Singing for the Brain group that had become a big part of his life.  

So long, George. We learned a lot from you and are inspired every day by the sensible, practical and courageous way you lived with dementia – and by your willingness to share.

Stephany Bardzil
Communications Manager
Alzheimer's Support