'They assumed my rages were down to the menopause, but it was dementia'

When sweet-natured Beverly Mackellow felt furious all the time, doctors assumed the symptoms were hormonal.

Here Beverly, 62, who lives with husband Kevin, 61 in Kent, tells her story.

Ironically, having a stroke was the best thing that could have happened to me. For a long time – since 2011 – I had felt something was wrong, but I didn’t have any definite symptoms.

It was more a change of personality – I became confused and so angry that I’d fly into a rage, and throw things across the room or bash them down.

I was evil – and how we stayed married, I really don’t know. I was forgetting things too.

Once, I made a recipe which was a family favourite, something I’d cooked for years. But I just couldn’t remember how to do it. I dug out the cookbook, but even as I read the words, they just wouldn’t sink in.

I remember meeting my dear friends for tea, and then just not being able to think of a single word to say, so just sitting there in silence, conversation just beyond me.

In the end the eldest of my three daughters begged me to see a doctor. They did a memory test, and said I had a bit of a problem but nothing to worry about. My behaviour was put down to the menopause, depression and anxiety.

Then two years later, in 2013, I had a stroke. The doctor put me on anti clotting medication, but the stroke helped me realise I needed help. I was referred to local mental health clinic and they diagnosed me with Vascular Dementia.

In the strangest way, it was a relief to know what we were actually dealing with. I had felt horrible for years, and I’d been so angry with the family it had nearly caused a rift.

I still apologise to my daughters now. But once I was diagnosed, I realised there were loads of other people in the same situation – and lot of people seem to be under 60.

I go to a group once a month and they’re all so nice. I’ve learned to write things down, and I’ve learned not to worry about the future, because those fears make things so much worse.

I used to think ‘I’m going to be a blithering idiot,’ but now, I just do what I can and really make the most from my life.

Some days, I can’t recall what happened yesterday. But I can remember things from further back in my life.

I also take part in Zoom calls with students called Time for Dementia, where we tell them what it’s really like to live with dementia, and help raise awareness for the future.

Three years ago, we rescued a dog from a Greek animal rescue, and Derek has changed my life. Even in the coldest winter day, I am forced to get up and take him out.

It’s a wonderful routine, and meanwhile my diagnosis has really bought Kevin and I closer than ever before. He said ‘I’ve got my Bevvy back,’ and that made me feel so happy.

The real faces of dementia

A couple in their 80s sitting in a tattoo parlour, having matching love hearts inked onto their arms.

The family who celebrate Christmas every day – with a freezer full of turkeys – because Dad thinks it’s 25 December. The little boy who tells his Mummy that Daddy is ‘broken’ – as she continues to raise him alone. The son who realises something is wrong when his father keeps ordering pork pies.

The motorbike lover who suddenly can’t turn the handlebars. The nurse who heartbreakingly diagnosis her own symptoms. The scientist who has devoted his life to helping them all.

Meet Ron and Sheila, Jules, Caroline and Mark, Grant, Anita, Fran and Tim. They are the real faces of Alzheimer’s and dementia – loving couples and families who know only too well that grief for an old life can make way for a new one you never planned. They know the love, the laughter, the compassion and the fear of facing Alzheimer’s and dementia – the UK’s biggest killer.

This week and next, Metro brings you the truly inspirational stories of how they have coped, how they have laughed as well as wept and how the Alzheimer’s Society has provided them and their loved ones with vital support.

Alzheimer’s and dementia: the facts

The most common forms of dementia (symptoms of a decline in brain function) are Alzheimer’s disease followed by vascular dementia.

Alzheimer’s is caused when plaques and tangles form in the brain making it increasingly hard for it to function properly. Early symptoms include forgetting recent events, struggling to remember words, becoming disorientated in familiar places and finding it difficult to concentrate.

Common early symptoms of vascular dementia include problems making decisions or following a series of steps, such as cooking a meal; slower speed of thought and trouble sleeping. The condition can also cause significant mood changes and depression and make people behave completely out of character.

Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer – and one in three babies born today will develop dementia in their lifetime. The risk of developing both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia roughly doubles every five years from the age of 65. Women and men are affected equally. Diabetes, obesity, heart problems and high blood pressure all increase the risk.

However, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing the diseases by leading a healthy lifestyle – not smoking or drinking to excess, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Keeping mentally and socially active is also beneficial.

The third most common form of dementia – accounting for an estimated 20 per cent of cases – is Lewy body. With this condition, tiny clumps of protein appear in the brain’s nerve cells, causing a range of issues including mood swings, problems processing thoughts, hallucinations, difficulty balancing and walking slowly. Although DLB (dementia with Lewy body) can affect people under 65, it is much more common as we age, affecting men and women equally.

There is currently no cure for any of the forms of dementia. But getting an early diagnosis is very important in allowing you and your loved ones to access all the medical and social support available. If you are worried that you have any of the symptoms, your GP will be able to refer you to a specialist who can carry out a range of tests.

If you are worried that yours or someone else’s symptoms may be dementia, download the Alzheimer’s Society symptoms checklist, on alzheimers.org.uk; for more information or support on anything you’ve read here, call our support line on 0333 150 3456 or visit our website.

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