The real-life Notebook? Husband and wife still in love after 50 years despite dementia pulling them apart
By Philip Tubby | Monday 13 February 2017
A husband and wife with dementia are still head over heels in love after 50 years, despite not always being able to remember who each other are.
Chris Warren, 72, and his wife Hilary Warren, 69, share a room at their care home in Broadstone, Dorset, following a diagnosis of dementia within just two years of one another.
Hilary’s vascular dementia is so severe she rarely recognises her husband Chris.
But despite the cruel condition causing her to forget who her husband is, she still holds his hand and spends all her time with him in what her son says is an “unwavering familiarity” with her “soul mate”.
Chris, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease, is now struggling to hide his frustration at what is happening to his wife and him, and is becoming increasingly confused.
The couple’s son James Warren, 37, who works as a Regional Fundraising Officer for Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“My mum and dad are soul mates, without a doubt. If my wife and I have half the marriage they’ve got, we’ll be doing just fine.
“My parents did everything for my two sisters and me and put themselves second, they were a team.
“These were the years that Ma and Pa were supposed to be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labours. They should have been travelling, enjoying being grandparents, visiting family and friends. Instead, they are both in a care home.
“They’ve both gone downhill a lot in the past year. Trying to get a smile out of my dad these days is incredibly difficult, the only time he really smiles is when he’s with Mum.
“They still show that they’re in love with one another. My mum is very short and my dad holds onto her forearm because he’s too tall to reach her hand, which we find very funny.
“But though there are funny moments, seeing them this way is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s hard not to talk about them in the past tense because they’ll never be the same people they were.
“Mum constantly asks where my dad is, even if he’s standing next to her, and she won’t always recognise that that’s him. But there is a constant familiarity there, even if she doesn’t know it’s really him she’ll hold his hand and rest her head on his shoulder.
“They loved walking and would walk for miles and miles happily taking in where they were and enjoying the time together. We try to take them to the beach and other places where they can walk so they can still do that together.
“As time goes on they will have to have separate bedrooms, and will forget who each other are altogether. This breaks my heart, but I know that somewhere inside them they’ll always remember their love for one another.”
James’ parents have been together for 50 years, since 1966, when they were just 22 and 19. They met when Hilary moved from Dublin to London and went to a post office where Chris was working.
Hilary said Chris, who later worked at Barclays bank, had short-changed her, but adamant he had not Chris asked her out on a date to diffuse the situation.
They married in 1969 and had three children together – Joanna in 1970, Victoria in 1971, and James in 1979.
In 2007, Hilary fell down the stairs and had a brain aneurysm, which led her to develop vascular dementia which she was diagnosed with just a few years later. She would repeatedly go missing after becoming lost and confused.
Not long after, in 2012, the family were dealt the devastating blow that Chris had Alzheimer’s.
The couple lived in Lytchett Matravers in Dorset from 1984 until 2014.They then moved to Parkstone, Dorset, to be right next to their two daughters, before they had to go into full-time care a year ago.
For decades Chris has treasured love letters written between his wife and him in the 1960s.
He recently, through frustration with his disease and what was happening to them, ripped up the love letters which he held so dear. They are being pieced back together by his family who are now looking after them for him.
James, who lives in Bournemouth, has raised thousands of pounds prior to and while working at Alzheimer’s Research UK after seeing the devastating effects of dementia on his parents.
“When my mum speaks she doesn’t really make any sense. She’ll never truly know any children that my wife Ellie and I may have. It’s such a cruel irony when I think of how much she loves kids, she worked as a teaching assistant for over 20 years. She never remembers what nice days we have had together.
“Dad and I always shared a love of music – blues, old scratchy bluegrass and jazz. Now when I start to listen to a new artist I’ll think, ‘Dad would love this’. It’s always a little bit bittersweet.
“I want to raise as much awareness as I can for the great work that Alzheimer’s Research UK do. I long for the day no family has to know the word dementia.”
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We can’t thank James and his family enough for sharing their moving story, and for their ongoing to commitment to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
“Showing the faces of those behind the statistics, the 850,000 people living with dementia every day, not only raises awareness of the condition but also brings to the public’s attention the desperate need for new treatments.
“Current treatments help with the symptoms of dementia but there are currently no drugs to slow down or stop the diseases that cause the condition. Alzheimer’s Research UK is leading the charge to find new treatments and funding over £33million of research across the UK.”
James completed a number of runs to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK in his parents’ honour. To donate go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JWrunningagainstalzheimers.