Dick Fairbanks couldn’t hold his wife’s hand, share a kiss or even a hug due to pandemic precautions.
His wife Patricia’s dementia was heart-breaking enough to deal with, especially when she forgot his name. But living in a care home during COVID-19 meant the couple couldn’t share a loving embrace.
“I haven’t seen Pat for more than six months now,” Fairbanks told the Alzheimer Society of B.C. in late summer 2020. “The care home offered me a chance to visit and sit across the table from Pat, but we’d have to wear face masks and wouldn’t be allowed to touch each other. I know what this would do to us. We’ve always held hands and shared a kiss and a hug. Now, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’m afraid it would upset her too much.”
So, the husband stayed with the virtual meetings on Skype.
“Most of the time she knows I’m her husband, but she’s forgotten my name now. She had two serious falls recently and ended up in hospital. Her face was black and blue, her right eye swollen and her dentures were broken in half. I could only keep her awake for two minutes at a time. Those things really tear me up. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.”
Pat was first diagnosed with dementia about six years ago. The last two years she was living at home became very overwhelming.
“One night, I woke to find her bed was empty. Her shoes were still there but the flashlight was missing. Four hours later, we found her in the trash room,” Fairbanks said.
She moved into long-term care in March 2019.
While the move and current restrictions have been hard, Fairbanks says love has helped them both.
“If I had one piece of advice, it would be to love them right to the end. They need it and you need it. It’s a terrible disease but with support and help you’ll get through it.”
That loving embrace never came for the Fairbanks couple.
Richard Dwight Fairbanks died Oct. 6, 2020, at the age of 85, in an accident, according to his obituary.
Support for those struggling with dementia and their caregivers is available through the Alzheimer Society of B.C., specifically the First Link® Dementia Helpline. The Helpline is for anyone (caregivers, people living with dementia, health-care providers or anyone else in the community) in need of support and information, including connecting to a local resource centre. More information on the Helpline is available at alzbc.org/dhl.
Or call 1-800-936-6033, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. For Cantonese and Mandarin call 1-833-674-5007, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For Punjabi call 1-833-674-5003, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Someone might call in because they’re starting to see changes in themselves or someone close to them and want to learn more about the warning signs and how to get a diagnosis,” said Carly Gronlund, the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s provincial coordinator for the dementia Helpline. “Most callers are caregivers who need to know who to call or where to turn. We guide them towards services that will help them build the skills and confidence to live well with dementia.
“We understand the journey that people affected by dementia are on and how overwhelming everything can feel, especially at the moment. We want to make ourselves as available as possible.”
– with files courtesy of the Alzheimer Society of B.C.