Mem­o­ries spur Terry

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Health - By KATE LEAVER

WHEN Terry Byrne had to jump in his back­yard pool to save his wife Shirley, who “didn’t know which way was up and which way was down”, he knew some­thing was wrong, but never sus­pected Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

“She had a bril­liant mind. We used to play golf to­gether, squash and go ball­room danc­ing; she was a dance teacher,” he said.

Mr Byrne said many doc­tors orig­i­nally di­ag­nosed Shirley with symp­toms of menopause, and when she was even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed in 1989 at just 48, he ad­mit­ted he had never heard of the dis­ease.

“For me, it was a learn­ing curve; when she was di­ag­nosed and they said she had Alzheimer’s, I had never heard of it,” he said. “I didn’t un­der­stand that mov­ing her around away from the en­vi­ron­ment she was used to wasn’t good.

“We went to Broome, Tas­ma­nia, New Zealand and half the time she was so con­fused she was scream­ing; this is be­fore we knew what it was.”

Af­ter 21 years of car­ing for Shirley, she passed away in 2004, leav­ing be­hind three chil­dren.

Mr Byrne now vol­un­teers at the Men’s Shed at Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia WA Mary Ch­ester Cen­tre in Shen­ton Park, help­ing im­prove the lives of those liv­ing with the dis­ease.

“I was a bit wor­ried when I first came here; I thought, can I do this af­ter 21 years with my wife?

“But it was only a mat­ter of weeks and I was into it; I’ve now been there three years,” he said. “See­ing them (the clients) achieve some­thing is re­ally re­ward­ing. I go home at night and think what a great day it’s been.

“They are not get­ting their mem­ory back, but they are en­joy­ing what they do and some­how gain­ing new skills; we’re al­ways busy mak­ing things.

“I’m hop­ing to con­tinue with the Men’s Shed as long as I’m do­ing some­thing that is help­ing these peo­ple.”

Mr Byrne said he would ad­vise oth­ers car­ing for a fam­ily mem­ber with Alzheimer’s to al­low them­selves a break.

“It wasn’t un­til I thought I was hav­ing a heart at­tack and rushed to hos­pi­tal and it just turned out to be stress that I found help,” he said.

If you are in­ter­ested in help­ing peo­ple liv­ing with de­men­tia con­tact Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia on 9388 2800 or visit www.fight­de­men­tia.org.au.

The Na­tional De­men­tia Helpline is 1800 100 500.

Pic­ture: An­drew Ritchie d465112

Terry Byrne vol­un­teeers at the Alzheimer’s Aus­tralia Men’s Shed.

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