If the future had played out as he expected it to, David Walker would now be sitting in his dream retirement bungalow in Lincolnshire, with his wife Georgina by his side, and a large garden to potter in.
Instead, life has dealt the couple a rather different hand. They now live in Melksham to be nearer to their daughter in Calne, but it’s not the same as the new bungalow they spotted, and later bought, when they stopped off for a quiet pub lunch en route from the North East to their Bristol home.
So why the change of plan? Why give up that dream home and move down to Wiltshire, as they did in 2011?
The answer, in short, is Alzheimer’s. Georgina is in the advanced stages of the condition and David gave up work in 2011 to become her fulltime carer.
It was in 2001 that they moved to Lincolnshire. David, now 70, had a long career in HR, business management and people development. Georgina, now 69, was a PA.
We’ve been a couple for 52 years, and married for 47. You don’t turn your back on 52 years. I meant it when I said for better or worse
The couple, who have two children and four grandchildren, had been planning a great retirement. They enjoyed activities like ballroom dancing, travel, their garden and having their family to visit.
But in 2010 Georgina began to change. David said: “Georgina was temping and seemed quite stressed. Before each new job started, we’d have to do a dummy run of the route there at least twice. Eventually, she seemed so stressed that I suggested she gave up work – it’s one of the worse things I could have done, and I really regret it.”
Georgina’s behaviour became more erratic, and the local GP simply diagnosed depression. Then she became obsessed that a neighbour was coming into the house and interfering with her clothes, shoes and personal items – but in reality, this clearly wasn’t happening. She also forgot where she had left things. David became more and more concerned, particularly when Georgina’s behaviour became more difficult to manage.
He felt the answer was to move away from the problem, to Wiltshire, to be nearer to their daughter. Only after the move was Georgina properly diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. “I am certain if we’d had an earlier diagnosis that things would have been very different. It is so important to raise awareness of the benefits of having an early diagnosis of dementia.”
Since then, David’s life has been a rollercoaster. The changes in Georgina’s behaviour resulted in a substantial period in NHS care. During this time, he fought to get a suitable domiciliary care plan in place. He used every resource available to him – including Carer Support Wiltshire, and a lot of research into the condition – to get the help he needed for Georgina.
Eventually, with the right medication and 24-hour support from David and agency carers Georgina came back at home, in February 2015.
Nearly three years on, he’s as determined as ever that, whatever happens, he will continue to care for Georgina at home. And he makes the best of his own life: he’s a volunteer with independent health and care champion Healthwatch Wiltshire and his dementia-friendly garden won a Melksham in Bloom award in 2017.
David said: “We’ve been a couple for 52 years, and married for 47. You don’t turn your back on 52 years. I meant it when I said for better or worse.”