David Wright was a high powered businessman before being diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. Robert Mair met his wife Sarah.

In this article:

  1. The ‘divorce disease’
  2. A textbook case
  3. Finding a home
  4. The right support

The ‘divorce disease’

Sarah Wright had already visited the solicitors to discuss an impending divorce when her husband, David, was diagnosed with Pick’s disease.

“It is often called the ‘divorce disease’,” she says. “Couples divorce before they realise it is an illness – rather than just stupid, horrible behaviour.”

Since Christmas 2006, David’s behaviour had changed dramatically. He had become withdrawn, insensitive and disinterested, and he was prone to acting erratically.

An international marketing manager for a south coast university, David was a high-flyer with a globetrotting lifestyle. He travelled the world, stayed in some of the world’s most exclusive hotels and encouraged rich overseas students to study at the university. But colleagues were becoming concerned at his behaviour:

“His work had noticed a decline in his productivity,” Sarah adds. “He was unable to learn a new computer system, he was distracted and he was making inappropriate remarks. Colleagues were getting fed up because he would say the same things over and over again.

“Then in July last year, it all came to a head. I was fed up living with a man who was withdrawing from myself and our daughter, and his work was concerned he was suffering some sort of breakdown. I sent him to the doctors, who then sent him to be assessed.”

Indeed, at the age of 46, David was more likely to be suffering a breakdown than anything else. But in November 2007, Pick’s disease was diagnosed – and Sarah was devastated.

“At one point I was hoping for a brain tumour because at least then they could operate. It’s such a horrendous diagnosis.”

A textbook case

Pick’s disease is a progressive dementia affecting the frontal lobes of the brain (which control behaviour, emotion and speech). The disease is rare; a recent study in the Netherlands found only 28 people per 100,000 were affected, and those struck down by the disease are often younger than those diagnosed with other forms of dementia – usually 50-60 years old.

David is “absolutely, categorically, a textbook case,” according to Sarah. "He over eats, has a poor attention span, develops routines and habits and has no empathy for other people’s feelings. He also makes inappropriate comments."

“In the early days, he would make sexual comments … wanting to do strange things that he wouldn’t have done in our marriage. It was very unpleasant for a while, and even now when he walks past an underwear shop he comments about the size of the ladies’ breasts. It’s part of the disease, though.”

Finding a home

Now, Sarah is looking for a care home that can meet his needs. He already attends a day centre and receives home help for 2 hours every day. But finding a permanent care home has so far proved problematic – and even finding a suitable day care centre has been a traumatic affair:
“Whenever things seem to be going well, another problem comes along and we have to find a new solution – and that is really how the last 12 months have been.”
“For example, when I go to work, David needs to be picked up to go to day care. Originally, the driver would pick him up and then drive to the next person’s house that needed to be picked up. Before they could even get this other person into the car, David would be in their house eating from the fruit bowl."

“The drivers have since refused to pick him up with other people, so he gets dropped off at the day centre really early in the morning. Then he was kicked out of 1 group because he was too disruptive and would agitate the older residents.”

The right support

As the disease spreads, Sarah has discovered other problems associated with his behaviour. He’s started to chew inedible objects (including bathroom light switches), he wanders off, forgets to dress, and sleeps throughout the day. But despite this, Sarah feels fortunate for the amount of support they receive from social services. She says:

“They’ve been good because we are younger and we have a 7-year old child. They have a duty of care for her and she is recorded as a ‘child at risk’ – which was devastating when we were told. But they had to take steps to address the risks that were associated with David being in the home with her."

“From what I’ve read, though, we have good support. They know they have to support us – we’re a young family, we still have a mortgage and all of the other things associated with that. So I guess we are lucky.”