A SURREY actress whose husband was diagnosed with dementia at 52 has shared the huge impact the condition has had on their relationship.
Actress Louisa Lawrenson has joined famous names including Colin Firth, Richard Madeley and Mary McCartney to mark Alzheimer’s Society’s latest campaign, highlighting the changing nature of intimate relationships following a dementia diagnosis and urging supporters to help reach more people by donating to the cause.
A dementia diagnosis often marks the beginning of a difficult transition from being in an intimate relationship, to becoming a carer.
Louisa’s husband and actor, Jerry Beckman, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009 and young-onset dementia seven years later.
She said: “You never imagine on your wedding day that this could be your reality and when it becomes that, it breaks your heart to reflect back. There are days where I cry but just know that I need to carry on for all of us."
“Jerry’s first symptoms caused problems with movement, balance, co-ordination and processing information. As things progressed, he’d do strange things like trying to change the TV with his tobacco pouch rather than a remote and at one point he thought his family were imposters.
“To see the person you love looking but not recognising you, is so painful. You go through a bereavement, before your loved one is even gone.
“I vowed to be there for Jerry in sickness and health so I will always be his rock, but that does not mean I must stop living. It’s about finding a balance and I know Jerry would want me to go lead a relatively normal life.
"Moments with Jerry are invaluable, I know he is still there and sometimes those fleeting flashes of recognition such as a smile after a bad day, are what keep me going."
Jerry still lives at home but receives care round the clock. The couple have a 16-year-old son who was three when Jerry was diagnosed. Louisa says he has no memories of his dad before his diagnosis and explains additional challenges that come with a dementia diagnosis at a young age.
“Jerry no longer recognises his son. For a young person, you want structure in their lives and having a spouse with dementia makes that very hard. A diagnosis at a young age also causes financial strain, it means I must support the three of us and Jerry struggled accepting that he was not contributing.”
Before being forced to stop acting aged 47, Jerry’s roles spanned stage and screen including TV favourites such as Holby City, Doctors, The Bill and Sherlock Holmes. Louisa said it was harder for Jerry when his dementia was less advanced because he knew things weren’t right and struggled to accept his fading ability to carry out daily tasks.
She’s also calling for better support services for people diagnosed with dementia at a young age, as she felt alone and let down when navigating the system for Jerry.
Carrie Holmes, Alzheimer’s Society area manager in Surrey, said:“Caring for a partner with dementia is fulfilling the ultimate relationship vow but navigating your way through ‘in sickness and in health’ can be overwhelming. There are more than 17,000 people estimated to be living with dementia across Surrey.
“We want to reach more people with our expert support services, fund ground-breaking research discoveries, and be the leading voice campaigning to make dementia the priority it should be.
"Alzheimer’s Society vows to help end the devastation caused by dementia but we simply can’t reach everyone and that’s why we’re calling on the public to donate, please visit alzheimers.org.uk.”