Reading the signs – Fred’s story

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By Fred Walker | Friday 02 September 2016

Fred Walker’s wife Joan lived life to the full – it was one of the many things he loved about her. But in 2010, Alzheimer’s robbed Fred of his beloved wife. They had been married 46 years. Joan declined slowly and it wasn’t until he looked back, that Fred realised that Joan had been displaying signs of dementia for a while before they learned something was wrong.


The first symptoms of dementia are often hard to spot. They usually appear gradually and are frequently passed off as stress, depression or simply old age. And when someone does realise that something’s wrong, either in themselves or a loved one, people are sometimes reluctant to seek help.

Here, Fred explains some of the symptoms Joan first experienced. It wasn’t until she had a series of falls and was referred to a Falls Clinic that an MRI scan was done and she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. By that point, her condition was advanced and the treatments available were ineffective.

“To tell how Joan progressed with Alzheimer’s disease I must first paint a picture of what she was like before the onset. In the film ‘Shirley Valentine’, Shirley looks into the camera and says “Why do we get all this life if we never get to use it?” Joan used her life; she worked as a personal assistant for a chartered accountant, and she loved music, ballroom dancing, fell walking and gardening.

“We met at Sale Locarno ballroom, married and had three children. Joan wanted to help the community so we became foster parents and took in 30 babies and toddlers. She always said that she had 33 children but not all by the same father. We have six wonderful grandchildren.

“She was on the Parochial Church Council, running the church hall, doing accounts and organising events. She passed her advanced driving test, and was secretary of the local group, Altrincham Advanced Motorists, and treasurer of the North West Region Liaison Committee.”

Then Joan’s symptoms began.

“It is said that one never forgets how to ride a bike, but whilst holidaying in Austria with our daughter’s family we took a bicycle ride around a lake and discovered Joan had in fact forgotten.

Fred-and-Joan-Walker-3“On another occasion, we went on an organised walk in Derbyshire. With our experience of fell walking it should have been an easy day out but once we left the tarmac footpath and entered the fell track, the friable surface prevented her from walking. It took over an hour to negotiate 100 yards back to the metalled surface. This condition rapidly progressed to an inability even to walk on a gravel car park.

“Then we were invited to a formal annual dinner nearby and, for no reason that we could determine, Joan remained sitting all evening with her hands clasped on her lap, not speaking, eating or drinking, much to the embarrassment of everyone at the table.

“To use the telephone became beyond her capabilities. She couldn’t master all the buttons. The cooker was far too complex to understand and there was always the danger of her leaving the gas on. She found making a cup of tea too much and would get confused as to how much tea, milk and water was needed.

“Some of these early symptoms were excused away as ‘Joan flexing her muscles and showing us who was boss’ or just ‘old age creeping on’. With hindsight it was neither of these but by then it was too late and the disease was already affecting her brain.”

Although there is no cure for dementia, there are medications available which can help relieve the symptoms. However, these work best at an early stage, making timely diagnosis very important. Initial symptoms of dementia typically include problems with memory, repetitiveness, confusion and disorientation. It’s good to be aware of the signs and, if you are concerned that you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of dementia, please visit your GP.

Alzheimer’s Research UK funds world class research, aiming to find new ways to prevent, treat and ultimately cure Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. You can find out more about our work on our website.

fred-walker-book-cover2Fred’s words are an extract from ‘Alzheimer’s: An Engineer’s View’ by Fred Walker and Chris Pomfrett. All profits from the book’s sale go to Alzheimer’s Research UK. Fred is a Champion of the charity and volunteers tirelessly to help fundraise for dementia research and to raise awareness of the condition.

‘Alzheimer’s: An Engineer’s View’, published by Stellar Books, is available as an e-book for £1.99 or paperback for £7.50 on Amazon. It can also be purchased from Waterstones for £7.50 either in store or online.


  1. Reg Bond on 2nd September 2016 at 9:04 pm

    The symptoms in this story are so similar to those my late wife and I experienced and suffered over the last ten years. I still think of her every day and life cannot ever be quite the same without her.

  2. Deborah Mottram on 5th September 2016 at 5:16 am

    Thank you for sharing your story , my lovely mum has dementia and we are seeing a rapid decline in her memory and capabilities every day . She was such a character and loved walking ,reading and sewing . It’s very difficult to see someone you love become a shell of their former self … Good luck and prayers to you , Joan and your family X

  3. christine Garbutt on 5th September 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I have been to the memory clinc twice in the last 8 yrs but they will not keep me on their books due to stats. I have been told 1 side of my brain is just below it shd be and the other just above and until both below they will not give it a name as only increases insurances etc. Even if diagnised I was told they do not give medication. My memory has worsened but is there any point going back if nothing is going to be done? It is probably about 3 yrs since I attended the memory clinic. What medication can they give and at what stage plse?

    • ARUK Blog Editor on 22nd September 2016 at 9:38 am

      Christine, thank you for your comments. Unfortunately it is true that the only medications currently licensed for people with dementia do not slow the progression of the diseases that cause it, but they can help with the symptoms for a while. If you were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease it is likely that one of these would be prescribed. If you have a diagnosis it does mean you can find local support and plan for the future, as well as being able to take part in research trials. These might include, for example, trials of potential new drugs, or others investigating better ways of diagnosing the diseases earlier and more accurately. To find out more about taking part in research please visit our website,

  4. Neville Gill on 6th September 2016 at 10:00 am

    There is no cure for Dementure. There is medicine which will delay the ultimate effect but that is all. Sorry but that is the truth, I wish I could tell you better news. My wife has had this dreadful disease for 5 years and I have gone to all available sources for help and advice but nothing can be done at this time.

  5. S B on 22nd September 2016 at 8:55 pm

    My father was diagnosed with Alzheimers in January this year. Before diagnosis, we noticed how very anxious he was as well as confused; the simple things such as setting his alarm clock became a struggle; the list goes on. His anxiety was addressed with an anti depressant called Citalopram 20mg (as over 65 years of age) in the morning and Pregabalin 100mg am and pm. He seemed to settle down and he became less anxious and worried but It was my daughter (dementia carer) however, who noticed that her grandad was showing signs of dementia. It was a battle for her and eventually myself to get our family to accept this and to get help; my mother and brothers were in denial. Once we broke through the barrier and eventually got a diagnosis my father was prescribed Memantin 5mg then 10mg, 15mg then 20mg (max dose)over a course of a four week period. I must say that this combination of medication has stabilised his condit ion for now. He still gets a little confused and mithers about who’s looking after him. He can’t put names to faces of family and friends but he recognises us and at times we all still get a piece of our ‘old’ dad back. I’ve been told that although he’s plateaued for now, he could suddenly go down hill. I’m now caring for my dad and making sure that every day there is something for him to do. One of his days is spent with his grand daughter who plays old time music for him in her car and he sings his heart out; he remembers the words. I’ve noticed how invigorated he is after a singing session; let it all out dad!

  6. Doreen J Sawyer on 23rd September 2016 at 10:01 am

    Hello, I agree that no scientific cure is available, but I have been reading articles from America where certain doctors are now saying that natural products not only slow this awful illness down but actually cure it. Turemic is one of the things mentioned, I have been reading everything I can on these findings, but don’t want to give either myself or my partner any false hope.. my partner was diagnosed 3years ago,and it seems sometimes that the illness is gaining speed, rather like rolling down hill. There are good days when you can pretend nothing is wrong, but there are days that you wish had just never began, for those who suffer from this illness that it. It’s a heartbreaking illness to watch, but it must be a terrifying illness to have to go through.

  7. Emily Spencer on 22nd November 2018 at 11:04 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the catastrophic effects of dementia on the way of living of a patient as well as his relation on the society. Early symptoms of dementia are often ignored by many people which is treatable with the help of proper medication. So, the appearance of such sign should not be characterized as the result of aging and proper medication should be provided to the patient so that he could live a quality life. Without proper treatment, it could develop into Alzheimer’s disease. For more information and assistance, visit

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About the author

Fred Walker

Fred’s wife, Joan, had a four year struggle with Alzheimer’s and died in 2010, aged 70. Since then he has been a tireless campaigner, raising awareness of the need for more investment into research for this devastating disease. Fred has involved his local community in fundraising events and has raised thousands of pounds for our world-class dementia research. A retired engineer, he has also written a book entitled ‘Alzheimer’s: An Engineer’s View’, with all proceeds being donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK.