IT was three car accidents that could have ended in tragedy and his family noticing changes in his behaviour that led Tony Dowlen to be tested for dementia.
Although his wife Caroline and daughters Melissa Appleton, 33, and Charlotte Nolan, 30, knew something was wrong, nothing could quite prepare them for the diagnosis.
Aged only 58, Tony, of Fairy Crossway, Cowplain, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The family is now sharing its story about the struggles they face on a daily basis, and why they are backing The News’ Take Care Together campaign.
Tony, now 59, used to work as a driver and during a three-month contract had three accidents.
He said: ‘I was driving down a road and realised I was supposed to be driving in the other direction.
It’s this thing going around in my head which makes me feel less than I used to be.Dementia patient Tony Dowlen, 59.
‘Rather than stopping and looking, I just turned my car around and ended up going straight into another car.
‘How everyone came out of that uninjured, I do not know, but it was scary.
‘I’ve had to give up work since I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
‘I wouldn’t give dementia to my worst enemy.
‘I would be grateful if a cure could be found, which I know won’t happen in the near future.
‘It’s the hardest thing in all of my home and work life to cope with – it’s this thing going around in my head which makes me feel less than I used to be.’
Caroline, 55, said she knew something had changed in her husband.
She said: ‘For about four years Tony had been treated for depression and was going back and forth to the doctors.
‘Because tests were coming back inconclusive they tested him for Alzheimer’s and that’s what he was diagnosed with.
‘I was devastated, but my gut feeling was something was wrong.
‘I still find it hard – I remember the day we were told and I fell to pieces.
‘Tony was quite strong because that’s the kind of person he was.
‘But then he changed and just crumbled.
‘He wasn’t himself anymore and became very angry and frustrated and angry.
‘Sometimes I get a glimpse of the Tony I married, but he has changed and isn’t that person anymore.
‘I’m quite a cuddly person and he used to be quite affectionate and give me hugs – that’s gone now.
‘If I cry and get upset, he notices but doesn’t react in the same way.
‘I still don’t like it and am very upset – I feel dementia has taken my husband away.
‘I can’t be his wife anymore as I have taken over the jobs he would do and care for him a lot more.’
Caroline is backing The News’ dementia awareness campaign and its three pledges.
She added: ‘I don’t think people entirely understand what dementia is, but they do try.
‘That’s why any sort of awareness campaign is backed by us because it’s so important more people know about it and talk about it.’
The change in Tony has also been noticed by his daughter Melissa.
The mother-of-two said: ‘Before the diagnosis we didn’t know too much about dementia and thought it was something that was a part of getting old.
‘But my dad isn’t old and was diagnosed with it in his 50s.
‘He used to be the one we turned to, to get a lift to places but that’s not something we can do anymore.
‘That’s a massive change and isn’t good for his pride.
‘He also gets frustrated and angry a lot quicker.’
Tony and Caroline go to the a Saturday Club, run by the Alzheimer’s Society, at The Link, in Havant Road, Cosham.
Tony also volunteers as a landscaper in Staunton Country Park two days a week.
Be a friend
A DEMENTIA Friend learns more about what it’s like to live with the condition.
That then turns understanding into action, from helping someone find the right bus, to recognising signs, and supporting loved ones.
Anyone of any age can be a dementia friend and there are two ways of doing it – take an online course lasting an hour, or join a face-to-face session.
The News wants to hear from all those who take part in a course, so we can see the difference you’re making.
There’s a number of ways in which you can do this – email email@example.com and give your name, age, address and contact details.
Or send a Tweet to @portsmouthnews with a message and #newsdementia
To sign up, visit dementiafriends.org.uk
Our three campaign pledges
OUR year-long campaign is committed to delivering three pledges in a bid to raise awareness and increase support. We want our readers to get behind our target to:
- Raise awareness of dementia – each day this week The News will feature a series of stories on the condition and will continue to run stories throughout the year to help improve understanding of dementia.
- Double the number of dementia friends – at the moment there are 1,416 in Portsmouth, 405 in Gosport, 662 in Fareham, 96 in Havant and 443 in Waterlooville.
Our aim is to get more than 6,000 people signed up to the scheme by May 2016.
- Ensure no-one feels alone – make sure information and support for both carers and patients is easily available and that there is a central point of contact for the Portsmouth area so people do not feel isolated.