Personal experiences of living with dementia
Stewart Cooper, 73, who is British, describes his life with Alzheimer’s disease in his adopted country of Luxembourg
I arrived in Belgium in 1992 and my wife, Siobhan and two children joined me six months later. Our initial five year plan turned into 17 years! I came to work on as a Project Electrical Engineer on an industrial plant. For the first five years, we lived very happily in a converted farmhouse near Arlon, Belgium, and then we bought some land and built a house in Hagen, Luxembourg, where we have spent the last 12 years living. My wife returned to work and I became a house-husband.
Things started to go wrong for me in May 2007 and this led to my visiting a doctor and having a series of tests, after which I was diagnosed with “mild cognitive impairment” and given treatment. On my next visit to the doctor I was told I had Alzheimer’s disease. My wife and I have been devastated by this diagnosis.
I do not wear this malady on my sleeve. We talk naturally about it. Friends accept it and make allowances for my forgetfulness. I try to lead a useful life. I love classical music and I still teach piano. The worst problem for me is not being able to concentrate. I find it difficult to work on the computer. I have had one book published and I have been trying to finish my new book, “Tome” “A history of Christianity” for the last two years, but it just sticks at 900 pages. This article has taken me six attempts and I find this very frustrating. Mental tasks seem to be harder for me now, rather than physical.
I understand that in the UK people with dementia cannot always afford the medication, especially if they are in the early stages. Here the medication is subsidised within the health care system and for me the cost of my treatment works out at about EUR 12 for six weeks instead of EUR 168. I have found the medical care to be outstanding. Even though the official languages in Luxembourg are Luxembourgish, French and German, all the staff I have come into contact with have spoken English. I have every respect for them. One doctor I see manages to give me plenty of time, so I am able to really talk.
Some things are difficult to establish though, such as what support services are available to me and my wife, as well as our rights. It would be nice to have someone who can explain this to us. I would dearly like to know if there are any other English speaking people here with dementia. I can speak French, but now it seems to take me all my time to speak in English. There are Alzheimer cafes and I will try to see if there is one near me. Siobhan has been fantastically supportive and I would like it if someone can also give her support as I think it must be incredibly frustrating, if not a little frightening, when I forget things. I know it is for me.
In May, I will attend the Alzheimer Europe conference in Belgium and hope to get a greater understanding of dementia. At the moment, with the medical care I receive, my family and friends around me, and the quality of life I have, I feel truly blessed to live in Luxembourg.
(published in issue 3 of the Dementia in Europe magazine, May 2009)
Last Updated: Thursday 15 March 2012