Tennessee couple has a love story stronger than dementia
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — By 10 a.m. every morning Harold Johnson can be found at Regency Retirement Village caring for his wife of 58 years, Sandra.
He stays to feed her lunch and heads out around 1 p.m. to feed himself and walk his dog before heading right back to Regency.
Like clockwork, Harold Johnson is back by 3:30 p.m. to sit with Sandra, feed her dinner and tuck her into bed for the night.
“That’s it,” Harold said. “That’s my day.”
About five years ago Sandra was diagnosed with severe dementia. Harold kept her at home until just over a year ago, when it progressed to the point where he couldn’t take care of her alone.
Sandra is to the point where she cannot communicate or do anything without assistance. Sticking true to vows, Johnson hasn’t given up on his first and only serious love.
“He has been very, very dedicated to her,” Regency Retirement Village Activities Director Darlene Montague said. “He has just been her backbone.”
Dementia is the general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that causes an interference with daily life, according to alz.org.
Sandra doesn’t remember their son or anyone else — but she remembers him, Harold said. She knows he’s her husband and she notices when he’s there or not there, he added.
“It feels good that she still remembers me — it really does,” Harold said.
As someone who has been working in health care for five years, Montague has gained a better understanding of what dementia is and how it impacts an entire family, and even the staff at places like Regency, she added.
She has witnessed individuals not recognize their own family members and knows how fast dementia can progress.
“It is heartbreaking,” Montague said. “When it progresses, it’s hard to see that loved one go down into a stage that you just don’t ever think that they would go to.”
For any family or individual dealing with a dementia diagnosis of a loved one, Harold advises to start accepting it early.
Eventually, your loved one will not be able to do the things they’ve always done, and it gets hard to accept, he noted.
“It’s tough on you,” Harold said. “You try to do everything you can — but it still doesn’t satisfy your heart.”
Even though it is few and far between, every now and then Harold will get a “yes” or “no” out of Sandra, which brings him comfort that she can still understand what’s going on.
Before Sandra was officially diagnosed, she knew something was wrong with her memory, Harold said. When the diagnosis came, neither of them knew what to expect.
The first step was Sandra giving up her car keys. Even though she was heavily involved in clubs and at church, Harold agreed to drive her wherever she wanted to go.
The couple loved to travel together so they went on a few more trips before the dementia progressed.
“Traveling was our favorite thing to do together,” Harold said. “We did all we could.”
The two have been to almost every state in the country, to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. Their favorite place to visit was “out west,” though.
They liked to leave without making plans and spend two weeks traveling through all the west coast states, he said.
Traveling is something the couple can’t do anymore, but even with Sandra’s lack of communication, she still enjoys holding her husband’s hand.
“She likes me to hold her hand a lot,” Harold said. “When I’m here I hold her hand. She’ll squeeze it, hold on to it.”
Harold and Sandra’s new reality is tough, but his love and faithfulness keeps him right by his wife’s side, no matter what.
“I just fell in love with her,” Harold said, recalling that it was probably her beautiful blue eyes that sparked the fire.
“You like to love and you like to be loved,” he said. “We’ve had a great life together, I think.”
Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com