“It has helped to be slightly extrovert”

Being the relative of a person with dementia can be difficult in many ways. Kerstin’s husband Ove developed Alzheimer’s when he was in his 60s. Despite many years of providing care and support, she has not lost her spark.

“My life has not been entirely worry-free, but I am a cheerful person,” she says.

Kerstin

Photo: Emma Danielsson

With her warm charisma, Kerstin gives a very strong impression of being a positive person. She talks about her life with her husband Ove, about how their story began when they met when they were just 16 and 17. She talks about their rich life together, and how their family grew with two children, a son and a daughter.

“Ove drove our son to sports activities several evenings a week. He was a bit of a curling Dad,” Kerstin remembers with a smile.

Apart from their day-to-day lives together, she and Ove had several shared interests. These included a love of travel. For example, they celebrated their silver wedding in Paris. Winter sports were something else they both liked, including all forms of skiing and ice skating.

Kerstin began to notice that things weren’t quite right with Ove when he was a little over 60.

“He cut down the daffodils when they were in full bloom in the garden, and he took the stereo apart to repair it even though it wasn’t broken.”

The symptoms got worse and Kerstin eventually wrote a letter to their doctor to get help. Ove was referred to the memory unit, where he underwent tests so that the doctors could make a diagnosis.

“It was such a nice place. The staff were angels.”

There were a number of visits to the memory unit, and the diagnosis that Ove had Alzheimer’s came as no surprise to Kerstin. At the same time, she learned that there were information meetings on dementia at ABF (the Workers’ Educational Association).

“That was how we learned about Solhöjden’s daytime activities and that we could apply there. We contacted the assistance office and were assigned a wonderful assistance case officer. When the decision was reached, Ove could leave home for two days a week. For me as his carer, it was extremely important to get the time for myself.

The daytime activities two times a week were gradually increased to intermittent care for one week a month. When Ove gradually needed supervision 24 hours a day, he was admitted to Björkbacken, sheltered accommodation for dementia sufferers.

“It was very hard taking him there. It was difficult to say that he shouldn’t live at home any longer. I visited him several times a week. But it was good there and the staff were excellent. They were so welcoming and always offered me coffee.

Ove died in April 2012, and although his disease was a process that took a decade, Kerstin still misses him a lot.

“I still grieve because he was such a good man. It was so unfair. Above all, I miss him as he was before he fell ill. As you can imagine, it was a huge change from having a husband who was big and strong to having one who couldn’t even talk. However, at the same time, I saw it as something natural. My life has not been entirely worry-free, but I am a cheerful person.”

What does support for relatives mean to you?

“Good support for relatives means a good assistance case officer who comes into your home and tells you what support you can have. After that, you are responsible for registering for things like lectures and relatives’ groups. You have to inquire. Otherwise you get left behind.”

Kerstin also received generally good support from her social network, above all from good staff and friends.

“I didn’t want to burden our children. I had the good fortune to meet helpful, accommodating staff. And I was able to cheer myself up with my friends. They suffered with me as most of them had known both me and Ove for years.”

Where did you derive your strength while you were a carer?

“I was always careful not to neglect myself. I looked after myself, went to the hairdresser and always wore my pearl earrings when I went out to make sure I felt fully dressed. I would say that what helped me most is that I was slightly extrovert. Of course, I am no longer a carer, but it’s always been important for me to get out and be social. Now I have a weaving group and I go to the theatre sometimes. And I love going to Junibacken with my little grandchildren,” says Kerstin with a smile.

Text: Emma Danielsson