Health

The slow goodbye of dementia - a husband bids farewell

On the day of his wife's funeral, Bruce Bovill pays tribute to the woman he lost over many years to dementia.

Jan Bovill died in a nursing home in Hampshire 11 days ago, at the age of 69.

Image caption Bruce and Jan's wedding day in 1968

She developed dementia in middle age - with her husband first noticing possible symptoms 25 years ago.

Bruce, 63, has worked with the Alzheimer's Society to highlight the challenges of being a carer.

He said: "Jan was always stunning. She had a vivacious personality, great dress sense - and she was just fun to be with."

The couple met at the University of London in the 1960s - and were initially drawn together by their shared Welsh backgrounds.

Bruce and Jan became engaged after a whirlwind romance. Their wedding was in Neath in September 1968.

They later settled in Essex, and then Hampshire. The Bovills developed their careers - Bruce worked in the computer industry, while Jan was in the accounting department at a big cosmetics company.

For many people, the daily train journey back home from London would be regarded as a chore.

But Bruce always experienced a magical moment when he glimpsed Jan across the station concourse.

He said: "I would approach the platform in Waterloo from one direction and Jan would approach from the other one, because we worked in different parts of London.

"When I saw her across the concourse, I would always think: 'My God - what a woman!'

"So much of our life was lost to this horrible condition - although we always made sure we enjoyed what we had."

Sitting in the conservatory at his home in a London suburb, Bruce paused for a moment to gather his emotions.

'Who am I?'

Image caption Jan on holiday in Antigua in 1986

He said: "The first time that anything really weird happened was in 1985. We'd just returned from a holiday in the Caribbean.

"Jan was in a semi-doze. Then she looked at me with complete horror - and said: 'Who are you?'

"Then she said: 'Who am I?' And then she said: 'Where am I?'

"Slowly Jan came back to herself again. We discussed it as being the worst jet lag ever - and forgot about it."

In 1988, Jan became increasingly anxious about the daily journey to London. She gave up her job.

Bruce reflected: "I think she was uptight because the dementia was coming in, and she was unable to cope with too many things at once.

"The first consultant we saw suggested Jan needed a pacemaker. It scared the pants off us, because it seemed such a major thing.

"Now I look back and think - if only it had been that."

Major ranting

Jan wasn't diagnosed with dementia until 1998. At that point, Bruce asked the doctor not to tell Jan.

He explained: "She was too far on then, for the diagnosis to help her, and I felt she might not cope well.

"It was a hugely dark time. Jan would have major ranting sessions. The person they go for is the person nearest to them.

"She didn't always know that I was trying my best, which makes it difficult.

"People with dementia are so busy fighting it, they haven't got space for the niceties of dealing with even their loved ones. It's such a huge fight."

Image caption Bruce Bovill at home

By 2001, Bruce was struggling to cope with caring for Jan. He moved her to Homefield House nursing home in Hampshire.

I first met the Bovills there three years ago. Jan's ravaged mental state - and Bruce's unquestioning devotion - were obvious.

Seven of the home's staff will be attending Jan's funeral today.

Bruce said: "The NHS gets a lot of stick, and so do care homes. We were so incredibly lucky to get Jan into such a good home, and to have her care funded by the NHS.

"I'm eternally grateful for that, because it left me able to be my strongest for Jan, and to give the best of myself to her."

Notes from Hell

Bruce said his wife of almost 42 years seemed "really calm" in her final days.

He said: "The doctor who certified her death actually wrote the cause as dementia. I was really pleased the doctor put that down.

"That doesn't often happen. Usually they give the secondary cause - pneumonia or heart failure."

In his study, Bruce showed me a 450-page computer document. It's his catalogue of the decades of his wife's deterioration. The title is "Notes from Hell".

Bruce will help carry Jan's casket into the funeral today, and he intends to speak words of tribute too.

He's designed and printed the order of service, to make sure that every detail is exactly as they both would have wanted it.

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