Reported by Fife Today – the news we share raises awareness of equality issues being reported in the media.
Aged just 56, Gerry King sat alone in his home, staring at the walls, as he thought about how his world had changed.
He had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
In 2016, Gerry had started having problems with his short-term memory, forgetting conversations, asking the same questions again-and-again.
He passed a test at his GP office, but failed miserably when he had a more in-depth test just three months later.
In September 2018, Gerry, who worked in the architect department at Fife Council, got the diagnosis.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I had to give up my job – half of it was driving, and the other half was at the computer.
“I forgot how to use the computer and because of the diagnosis, I lost my driving licence. I was considered a danger on the road. I was driving places and forgetting how I got there.
“I had an accident at a car park one day. I hit a poor woman’s car and didn’t realise I’d done it. The woman was sat in her car shaking her fist at me. I asked her what was wrong and she said I’d bashed her car. I didn’t think I had. I got out and there was a big scratch down the side of it.”
Gerry’s confidence took a big knock. He isolated himself as his world changed.
So what changed?
Ruth McCabe, the project manager at Dementia Friendly Fife, “dragged” Gerry out of the house, getting him to give talks to companies about his own experiences.
Fife Health and Social Care Partnership started the dementia project in October 2018, challenging businesses, organisations, charities and individuals to sign up to become ‘dementia friendly’.
It means taking a short course, online or in person, to learn more about the disease and what you can do to help those living with it.
There are now more than 6000 ‘dementia friends’ in the Kingdom, with over 250 Fife businesses having taken part.
Gerry helps promote the campaign, talking about the disease and breaking some of the misconceptions.
Businesses and organisations can get involved with the project and become ‘dementia friendly’, which involves the location being assessed to see what changes can be made to make it more suitable to people with the disease.
“Places that are ‘dementia friendly’ are very calming – the atmosphere is calming, the decor is calming,” explained Gerry.
“I went to IKEA. Some parts were OK, some were not. If the decor is too jazzy, too bright, it affects my visual awareness and mental ability. Some parts of the store I just walked out.
“The supermarket can be confusing. I go most days.
“But I notice as my condition gets worse, it gets more difficult, to remember where things are, what aisles to go down.
“And if it’s busy it can be quite scary.”
There are also a lot of misconceptions about dementia and how to deal with it.
Gerry said some friends started treating him differently because they were not sure how to deal with it.
“It’s a difficult disease to cope with,” he said. “You need a lot of understanding.
“Your temperament is pretty poor and you have no patience. It’s hard to understand what is going on around you sometimes.
“It’s difficult to speak, hard to find the right words.
“I think people have to realise it’s not as scary as they think. The end stage is bad, but before that stage it is just a normal life.
“Just be more kind and understanding. When I’ve spoken to people about it, they’ve mostly been good.