New Brunswick

No longer partners: Dementia changes couple's hopes

A new program with Hospice Fredericton is aiming to help families dealing with dementia by opening an adult day care program.

New program at Hospice Fredericton offers relief to people caring for loved ones with dementia

Hospice Fredericton is offering a new program that helps families living with dementia. (CBC)

When they thought of retirement, Marion Rigby and her husband, John Argall, imagined doing what they loved best: hiking, biking and travelling the world. 

Everything changed three years ago, when Argall was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, which affects his short-term memory and ability to string together both complex and simple tasks.

This was a devastating reality for the Fredericton couple, who had always loved spending time together.

"It completely changes what your perspective is for your own life and for the life of the person that you're with," said Rigby.

Before he was diagnosed, the couple thought Argall, now 60, was burned out from his high-stress job as executive director of a biotechnology startup. He was often tired, less active and had a hard time finishing his work.

"I knew something was wrong but we both thought it was burnout at the time," she said.

That was the start of their journey with this rare form of dementia and Rigby has seen a steady decline since then.

We don't have a lot in common anymore.- Marion Rigby

"I don't think he remembers that he has dementia," she said.

Over time, she said, he'll stop functioning and will have to go into assisted living.

"That's the difficulty," Rigby said. "You can't predict when this is going to happen, [or] how long we're going to be in this limbo period."

A different kind of relationship

Rigby prompts her husband as he goes through day-to-day activities, such as eating and getting dressed.

The couple still enjoy watching movies together, but Argall quickly forgets what he's watched, so there isn't much discussion afterward, Rigby said.

"I'm a caregiver, I'm no longer a partner, he's no longer a partner to me," she said. "We don't have a lot in common anymore."

Nowadays, Rigby relies heavily on family, friends and the latest J.T. Clark Family Adult Day Program.

A new partnership 

Three days a week, the program provides care to people living with dementia and gives their caregivers a bit of down time.

Rigby appreciates the three days when she doesn't have to worry about where Argall is. She is grateful for the program and the people who work there.

"The whole point of the program is to really give them a break," said Nicole Pike, the co-ordinator. "You can see just in their faces … they get to have a break."

On days he's not taking part in the program, Argall will drink coffee downtown.

"He'll answer his phone but he won't know where he is necessarily," Rigby said. "He knows he's downtown but he doesn't know what street he's at."

Despite worrying about his whereabouts, Rigby continues to go to work everyday herself.

"When I go to work, I have my own life, I am who I am," she said. "I'm not the wife of somebody with dementia."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton