For Duncan, knowing his wife, who suffers from dementia, is being cared for by us is of great comfort
Every day, Duncan Mountjoy goes for a 5 ½ km walk. It’s always the same route passing Framland, the Pilgrims’ Society Friend’s care home in Wantage where his wife Lynne is living with severe dementia. Before the Covid-19 lockdown Duncan was like a member of the Framland family, visiting daily for hours. Now, every day, he blows a kiss over the wall to Lynne in her bedroom. “Emotionally, it helps me feel that I’m near her. And I can park the car and wave through the window,” he said.
This August, Duncan and Lynne will have been married 49 years. They have two children, Laura (39) who was born with cerebral palsy and now lives in a care home, and Andrew (38). Duncan said, “It’s known that the strain of raising a child with a disability can cause couples to break up, but Lynne managed brilliantly and we’ve always been happily married.” An early symptom of Lynne’s dementia was that she sometimes forgot Laura’s breakfast before taking her to the Day Centre. There were other minor issues, but Duncan said, “In 2015 you wouldn’t know that she had Alzheimer’s. She could go out and about, was walking and talking. When the decline came, it came swiftly.”
Lynne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in February 2016, two days before Duncan’s retirement. But it wasn’t until a holiday in Malta in September 2017 that he noticed the disease progressing, when Lynne began to mumble to herself. However, the Malta holiday produced some beautiful photographs of them both, one of which is now his screensaver. Others have been downloaded and framed and sit on his desk.
The tipping point in his caring for her came in March 2018. “By then she was having trouble climbing the stairs. One day she got to the top very awkwardly and hit her head on the wall, so I said, ‘stand up straight a bit, darling, and hold the rail.’ She stood up but didn’t hold the rail and fell backwards all the way down: she was bruised. I mentioned it to people in church and some said to me, “you are not a professional carer – you have a decision to make here.” One person, who has worked in care homes and who knows Beth at Framland, gave me some good advice. Lynne went into Framland in July 2018.
Duncan added, “I know that Lynne hasn’t died, and I will be heartbroken when she does, but this feels like a stretched out, long dying. It’s testing my faith. Sometimes in my prayers I have fisticuffs with God, and that keeps me focused. I just take each day as it comes.
“Some people crack up under the strain. We all handle things in our own way. I was an IT director and am used to working under pressure. My coping mechanism involves having routine and structure in my life. I used to swim five days a week. During lockdown, that hasn’t been possible, so instead I use an exercise bike in the afternoon.
“It’s the little things that make her feel close to me still. Her picture on my phone. And the stuff that she has closeted here, that I know well. I gave away some of her clothes that were new, but I’ve kept the others. Having Lynne’s stuff, the smell of her on her clothes, it’s all part of my coping.”
A big factor in Duncan’s adjusting to lockdown has been the knowing that staff at Framland are looking after Lynne lovingly, and well. He said, “Everyone who’s visited Lynne, they’ve all said the same thing, and some of them are not Christians. They say Framland is so caring, and it has an aura about it. Even non-Christians say that.”
For details of our distinctive approach to caring for those with dementia, please see The Way We Care