Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature
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Dementia mainly ensnares older people: the risk rises steeply after the age of 65. However, you can get dementia years before then as a Dementia UK case study shows. Peter was diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer’s disease in early 2015 aged 50.
“My wife saw it in me in the early stages, if I’m being honest, I half knew it myself,” Peter revealed.
He continued: “It’s not like being ill-ill, I used excuses, told myself I had a lot going on, was writing down a lot of notes but then one day I had to go and pick my daughter up and realised I had no idea how to get out of town. I realised in myself that there was something wrong.”
It took two to three years for Peter to get a diagnosis. The medical term initially said it was depression, but eventually did memory tests and his score was low.
“When I was first diagnosed, I felt depressed, and we kept it a secret. I don’t know why looking back but it took a little over 18 months for us to tell people.”
He continued: “After diagnosis, you have a phase of ‘What do you do next?’ and of depression and withdrawal. It hit me and my wife hard.
“We shut ourselves away and didn’t do a lot, but we came to the realisation that we had to make the best of it. We didn’t know anyone else my age who has dementia and there is no support for younger people in Suffolk. We went to a few dementia meetings, but everyone was much older than me and at a much later stage.”
How dementia has impacted Peter’s daily life
“My writing has become virtually non-existent. I used to use measurements and do technical drawings in my work – that has completely gone.”
He continued: “With money, I know what a coin looks like but can’t add them up anymore. I have no idea how to do it. I get round it by using contactless cards. I can read a few lines but forget what I’ve read and have to go back up and down, so I don’t read a great deal now.
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“I lose the plot or thread of television programmes or films, so I tend to watch wildlife documentaries instead. They are good because they don’t have a plot so I can just watch and enjoy them.”
Peter added: “I began to find driving very difficult; there is too much information to process. I thought it better to stop as I felt I’d be a danger.
“I still cycle a lot though; I’ve got lots of different bikes, including a penny farthing, and I cycle in all weathers.”
Peter doesn’t worry about the things he can’t do: “there’s no point struggling. If you find skills and things you can do, then keep them up.”
Following his diagnosis, Peter gave up work and cycling has become a real passion of his.
“I cycle most days with my wife Teresa or with my friend Deb. With their support, I’ve done a number of cycle rides raising over £19,000 for charity.”
His first was a 300-mile ride from Aberystwyth to Aldeburgh. He then did his second challenge – another 300-mile ride – but this time on his penny farthing, and more recently he rode 1,500 miles over the winter months.
“I’ve spoken at numerous dementia events, have taken part in podcasts and with Deb, wrote a book about a year of my life called Slow puncture, living well with dementia.
“The book focuses on how I live in the present and cope with having dementia and also describes dementia through Deb’s eyes and how her understanding of the condition has grown.”
In 2019, Peter took part in the Channel 4 series “The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes”.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to change people’s perception of dementia as well as raising awareness of the condition on a bigger platform. It gave me a real sense of purpose but mainly I just had a really great time.”
How is Peter feeling about his prognosis? “I’m as fit as a fiddle. I’ve done all the things I should do to avoid dementia. But if I can do something and some good can come of it, that is what matters to me.”
You can find out more about Peter’s book and his story on his website
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