Clyde Woods thought he would no longer need his management skills after he retired from his senior role at Telecom. But when his wife began to show signs of dementia, his experience in project management proved to be incredibly useful.

Dawn had always been a vital, independent woman but, in her early 80s, Clyde noticed she was becoming forgetful and losing interest in activities she’d previously loved.

‘I decided it was something more than just old age when things got a bit more serious and she had all the gas burners turned on the stove – and they weren’t lit,’ he recalls.

‘I took her to the doctor and he asked her the simplest of questions, like what day is it, what's the date today, and she had no idea. No idea.’

Preparing for the future

After the doctor referred Dawn to a specialist, Clyde did some research, talked to his wife about what was likely to happen and wrote up a list of everything he needed to put in place. ‘I looked at the practicalities of what I had to do. I had a look at our will. Dawn was the executor of my will so I had to change that, and I got our powers of attorney up-to-date.’

The couple had previously been volunteer advocates for people in nursing homes so Clyde was well aware of waiting periods. So, while he wanted to keep Dawn at home as long as possible, he registered her on the waitlist at a home he liked in case she needed it in future.

Once the specialist formally diagnosed Dawn as having Alzheimer’s, the disease progressed quickly.

‘Her memory was going out the window. It’s just a terrible disease. As she got worse, she started not being able to eat by herself. You'd put some soup in front of her and she'd pick up her fork.’

Asking for help

Clyde reached out for support.

‘I got a lot of help, I got in touch with the Caulfield Hospital and they sent out a nurse every week to check on us. I got a podiatrist, I got the person that did our hair to come to the house, I got a nutritionist who showed me how to puree her food and told me what she should eat.

‘She never was a needy woman, she was always an independent woman. We used to play golf, go to the shops. She loved shopping. Loved, loved, loved shopping. But she became so needy that she literally couldn't let me out of her sight.

‘I coped by shutting down my normal emotions. I could've got extremely upset so many times, but I was determined I was going to be professional. I loved Dawn. We had been together about 62 years. It broke my heart to see what was going on, but I thought if I break down what sort of a carer am I going to be to her?’

Clyde nursed Dawn at home for eight years, until she began to have falls and he was unable to get her up by himself. Dawn passed away in a nursing home two years later, at the age of 90, with Clyde at her side.

Making the most of retirement

Clyde is now travelling and taking a turn as president of his local Probus club and as a committee member of Rostrum. Despite the challenges Dawn’s condition presented, he says the experience was not all bad.

‘All these problems were not as important as the fact my wife was still with me. I could hold her hand, I could kiss her goodnight and I could hug her in bed and she would snuggle up to me.

‘The silver lining was, I had her with me.’