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My partner with dementia: Martin & Amrita

My wife Amrita and I were living in Qatar with our son Sanesh when the first warning signs started appearing in Amrita’s behaviour. She began demonstrating some eccentric ways of thinking, and would do things like wear her clothes inside out.
 
Amrita is a music teacher by trade, and taught at international schools in a range of different countries. After Qatar, we moved on to Shanghai, where the realisation set in that something was wrong… but blood tests and x-rays all came back fine.
 
But the sense that maybe it was something that perhaps wouldn’t be found in those sorts of tests came to us after an evening out for drinks with friends. Amrita asked the same person the same question five or six times. Our friend thought she was just tipsy – but we realised something else was amiss since she hadn’t had more than two drinks, so we booked in to see a neurologist.
 
The initial perspective from medical staff in Shanghai was that she couldn’t have Alzheimer’s because of her age and the fact that she was still able to play complex music on the piano. We returned to New Zealand and visited a GP; within minutes they performed a test and confirmed our worst fear – Amrita had Alzheimer’s.
 
It was 2015. We returned to Shanghai, and Amrita attempted to go back to her classroom role, but ultimately had to resign, which was a huge blow for her – she had been teaching for 33 years! Coming back to New Zealand, she was still keen to continue teaching if possible, but again, the deck was stacked against her and she wasn’t able to start the role she was initially offered.
 
Our battle began. With support from WINZ and Dementia Auckland, however, we started to make progress. The CST (Cognitive Stimulation Therapy) programme was a major breakthrough, and I was thrilled to see some real change in Amrita and the
others in her group. Harnessing her love of music has also been important, with plenty of opportunities provided for her to play the piano – whether at home, at retirement centres or at the Papakura Salvation Army, where she volunteers, or a Toastmasters meeting that she attends every second Thursday. It’s just amazing to see her remember her old favourites, and see how her music touches other people too. Sharing music is a way of helping her and helping others too.
 
Sanesh, our son, was 15 when Amrita’s symptoms started really developing. He’s now at university and has continued to be amazingly strong and supportive throughout this journey. Before we did this years Walk for Dementia, he even shared a short piece about Amrita’s battle on Facebook, the first time that we had shared anything about it with anyone other than close friends and family. There was an outpouring of support and love; ultimately we had about 30 people walking with us on the day, and donations came in from friends and family around the world. 
 
Being open about Amrita’s dementia has helped a great deal – and has allowed us to see that you can live with dementia and still live your life. It has been a huge learning curve for us all, but by sharing our story, we know we can help others, and one another.
 
Register to take part in Get Together For Dementia so we can help more people living with dementia in our community like Amrita.