'She asks me who I am – and I'm her husband'

Alzheimer's changed everything for Ian and Mary Winship. But after 50 years of marriage, they have an unbreakable bond, says David Graham

Pucker up dear and I'll put your lippy on," Ian Winship affectionately instructs his wife Mary. She playfully blows kisses at him as the former steeplejack deploys the tube of lipstick with surprising ease. It's just one of the many skills, once foreign to the 73-year-old, which he has had to acquire since Mary, 66, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease six years ago.

"I find myself talking to people about recipes," admits Ian with a wry smile on his face. "Mary used say to me, 'We need a new iron.' I'd say, 'Mary, my mother had an iron for 30 years we can't need a new one.' I was just that used to getting it done for me."

They have been married for 50 years and the closeness that has underpinned such a strong bond is still very much apparent in every exchange between them – their constant lighthearted teasing emanates a cheerful warmth.

Ian talks enthusiastically about holidays abroad the couple, from Abronhill, Cumbernauld, once took, all of which were documented at length by Mary in her diary upon their return. They even bought a camper van with dreams of touring the continent throughout their retirement.

Hill walking is a great passion of Ian's, something he attributes to his time as a paratrooper. Evidence of this is dotted around the couple's immaculate, cosy home, thanks to their proudly-displayed paintings and sculptures from trips to conquer the Himalayas and the Italian Alps.

Ian's demeanour becomes serious when he concedes he doesn't have time to indulge his favourite pastime these days because caring for his beloved partner has become his primary concern. "Mary can't do anything for herself anymore," he explains. "I have to feed her, dress her, wash her. It's like having a child, we can't have a conversation now. It's 24 hours a day I have to look after her, I barely get any sleep."

He continues: "If it was another medical condition or cancer the nurses would have been at the door but because it's this, as a carer, I'm left on my own. It's trial and error – if something doesn't agree with her I have to just work that out myself. I think it's only becoming known how serious this condition is now since people are living longer."

The couple's three children, Fiona, David, and Ian, help as best they can, but the only regular respite Ian receives is when volunteers from the Alzheimer Scotland organisation take Mary out twice a week for a few hours. "I couldn't praise them enough," says Ian. "They're always trying to come up with new ways to stimulate sufferers, and that's what keeps them going. Mary loves to sing, we've got tambourines and musical bits and pieces that the carers play with her. It's fabulous."

Ian keeps a diary detailing Mary's state of mind each day. In an entry in February of this year he wrote: "I have long feared the day that Mary will no longer recognise me, and today that day is here. She will ask me my name, and what's my wife's name." An extract such as this, an insight into the difficult reality of living with such a devastating illness, reveals just how painful life can be for the loved ones of a sufferer.

It is obvious however, after spending only a few minutes in Ian's company, that he retains a very positive outlook on life. "There's always someone who has it worse than you, that's what you've always got to remember," he tells me.

The Joint Dementia Initiative in Falkirk runs a weekly café where sufferers and their carers can interact and support one another. "It makes such a difference," says Ian. "It's stimulus; that's what stops them going downhill as quickly as the sufferers who are sedated all the time. Mary just loves to go there and sing; at first it was embarrassing but now they all join in. It's a tremendous support to be able to speak to carers who are going through the same thing. People have come from Hong Kong and Germany to see the place because it's so well run."

The Scottish Government announced a new Charter of Rights for dementia sufferers last month, which Ian hopes will change attitudes towards the illness. "People say they understand but they don't really know what you go through and what happens," he explains. "I hope it will help – anything giving more support than there is at the moment has to help. It's one thing to talk about it but it's more difficult to get it into practice."

There's a noise at the door as Mary and her carer return. She's full of life as she sits down and tells Ian she had a blueberry muffin and a hot chocolate at the coffee shop. "You're a creature of habit aren't you?" he teases.

"Yes, but I like my habit," Mary quickly retorts. Ian jokes: "Shame you're not wearing a habit, I could be off to a warmer climate."

"Behave," comes Mary's reply, with a cheeky smile cracking across her face.

"It's no fun to behave," Ian pokes back.

"That's why I'm telling you to," concludes Mary, satisfied with her victory.

It's a fantastic sight to behold: despite her condition, she can still be as sharp as a tack in response to her husband's teasing.

As Ian walks me to the front door he gestures towards the living room. Mary and her carer are laughing and joking about the day out they've had together. "Listen to that in there," he says. "If you go to most of these support places they're just left sitting on their own, but just listen to that. She's chatting away, she's alive in there. That's just what she needs."



If you would like to know more about the support offered by Alzheimer Scotland, call their helpline on 0808 808 3000 or visit www.alzscot.org

David Graham: Winner of the Wyn Harness Prize

The Wyn Harness Prize for Young Journalists was established in November 2008 in memory of The Independent's former assistant editor, Wyngate Harness, who died from an inoperable brain tumour in 2007.

David Graham's feature impressed the judges with its "unusual approach to a traditional subject and a sensitive use of quotes and language which brought the article to life". David Graham, 24, finished a post-grad in journalism at the Strathclyde School of Journalism last June, following a brief career in banking. He now works for a local paper in Scotland and has just completed a work placement at The Independent.

He says: "I chose to write about Alzheimer's as I recently lost someone very close to me to the disease and it really struck me how little coverage it receives. There is so little awareness about how devastating a condition it is for the sufferer and everyone around them. It's very traumatic to watch as the person you once knew and loved slowly disappears before you. In a way, it can be worse than a sudden bereavement. We are years and years behind where we should be in terms of research into the condition and the development of treatments; however, through increasing awareness, that can only improve."

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living