Jean and Tony married in 1969 when they were both 21 years old. Tony was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease in 2006 when he was 59. Jean talks about their life together... 

“When I first met my husband Tony he was a carpenter and joiner, working for R. Butcher and Son in Warminster. We started going out in 1968 and married the following year – we were both 21. We lived in Heytesbury where I had grown up.

“Tony was quite a sportsman and was never happier than when out playing football, cricket or bowls. I spent a lot of time on the touchline and some of the friends I have today are fellow sporting wives.

“His parents had a smallholding in Codford, where we eventually had two bungalows built. Tony did a  great deal of the work himself – the groundworks, all of the carpentry, raising the roof etc while we lived in caravans on the site. By this time he was working for Wiltshire County Council as a senior technician for the Highways and Transport Department, so he mainly worked on the site evenings and weekends. After about three years we moved to Warminster.

“Before we moved to Codford Tony managed to secure the title of World Champion Welly Thrower in  1978. He threw a size 8 welly 173ft in a competition at the Tower of London. He was presented with several prizes, including a golden welly on a wooden plaque – which I still have. He was in the Guinness Book of Records for many years too.

'l'd know for a year that was something wrong'

“I’d known for a good year or more there was something wrong before Tony was diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of 59 in 2006. One time we were coming back from visiting our daughter and he came off the wrong junction on the motorway and it completely threw him. He didn’t know how to get back and that really worried me. He also used to play bowls competitively three or four times a week and I would often get phone calls saying he had left something behind, forgotten he was meant to be playing or turn up on the wrong day. 

“Tony had taken voluntary redundancy from the council and went to work for our son in his electrical and building services business as a carpenter. But gradually Stuart started to realise there was an issue and had to keep an eye on Tony more and more. When I would ask Tony what he had done during the day he often couldn’t remember.

“Then one day he said: ‘I don’t think I want to go any more’. But this meant he was at home all the time and I couldn’t leave him. As the dementia progressed if he could see me he was all right, otherwise he would get very distressed. If I went out of the room Tony would follow me. If I went to the dentist or hairdresser, he came too.

“After an appointment at the RICE clinic in Bath and a brain scan we were told Tony had Alzheimer’s Disease. We were devastated. His mother had it too so we knew the path it was going to take. Sometimes he would talk about it, other times he would be in denial. It was pretty grim.

'We went to Music for the Mind which was nice'

“Tony did try going to Alzheimer’s Support’s Trowbridge Day Club, then based in Polebarn Road, but it didn’t work out because he was looking for me all the time. I couldn’t have any respite, although we did go to Music for the Mind in Bradford on Avon together which was nice. I’ve always enjoyed singing and could talk to others in a similar situation there. When my daughter-in-law could have Tony, I would go to the carers’ meetings. We did still go on holidays and coach trips – we travelled with a small local concern and they really got to know us. They were wonderful with Tony and he loved it.

“Eventually as Tony’s dementia advanced he moved into residential care nearby. The staff were amazing and so kind to me and my family. I couldn’t have provided that level of care at home and I felt like the responsibility had been lifted from my shoulders, but the guilt was so dreadful. Sadly, Tony died in 2017 aged 69.

“As soon as I heard the Old Silk Works club was in the pipeline in Warminster I wanted to get involved as a volunteer. I helped with the indoor garden before it opened and have been here since the first day. When the clubs reopened after the first lockdown I was part of the first bubble that welcomed members back.

'Old Silk Works is invaluable' 

“The service the members and their families get from the club is invaluable and that’s why I do it. I know how vital their time here is for their carers. 

“Because of my experience as a carer, I can relate to everyone who arrives at the club because I see a lot of Tony in them. I step into their world when they come into the club. 

“This place is amazing and everyone works so hard. I only wish I could have had that for Tony. I am proud to be part of the team and to be involved with something that feels so worthwhile and we all get on really well.”

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