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Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Tuesday, 6 July 2010 13:58 UK
Dementia week: Is that a tomato?
Claire Bailey
BBC Wiltshire

Margie Hickford and John Winter
John's partner Margie is now his full time carer

When John Winter was a young man he made suits for Lords.

Now he'll see a vacuum cleaner and call it a lawn mower.

At nearly 80 years old, John, from Wroughton, has Alzheimer's. He was diagnosed three-and-a-half years ago.

As part of Alzheimer's Awareness Week he's been talking about what it's like to live with the disease:

"I talk to my partner Margie and I can't get out what I want to say," he says.

"I'll start mumbling it and eventually she starts losing patience with me. And she's very patient with me.

"It's silly, the word just won't expose itself, but she's used to me now and she'll help me put sentences together."

John Winter in military uniform
John completed National Service with the RAF

It wasn't always like this of course.

John was a tailor at 17, and enjoyed a successful career.

His customers included Lord Bath, Lord Winestock and Lord Portsmouth, and up until two years ago he was still making suits for customers.

He did National Service too, and spent two years in the RAF during the Korean War.

On top of all that, he was a keen cyclist and was allowed off duty for competitions.

Nowadays he'll rely on Margie and she says it's a full time job:

"He'll go out to the kitchen and say 'Where's the coffee?'"

Beginning to sound a little exacerbated, she explains that she'll tell him it's next to the microwave, on the left hand side, next to...., she trails off and you get the impression she's had to tell him countless times before.

"He'll go out there, but if you give him more than three clues, by the time he gets there he's forgotten them.

"I'll hear cupboards and drawers being opened and he'll be on the right side of the kitchen, but he won't remember what it is he's gone in for or what the next instruction was.

"He gets frustrated and I'll offer to help but he won't accept, 'no, no I'll find it, just tell me again'", he'll say.

Memory aid

It must seem like Groundhog Day sometimes, but Margie says she manages to cope: "For most of the time I think I'm alright.

"I'm still finding it difficult if I'm not well. It's not just caring for him, because I've always been a carer, it's having to do everything.

"I don't leave John, and he doesn't go to a day centre. We're together 24 hours, every day.

And so to help the day along, to aid John's memory, he has a blackboard which lists the jobs he needs to do every day.

It reads: "Make beds, hoover the floor, wash up and do the kitchen floor," says Margie.

But John doesn't remember that he has to read the list.

"He'll say to me, 'do you want me to do something?'", says Margie.

Laughing, she continues: "Look at the list John!"

John Winter posing as a tailor
John stopped working as a tailor in 2008

The couple, who have been together since Margie's husband died in 2002, enjoy spending time in their garden together, but even their hobby can throw up reminders, for them both, of John's condition.

John looks to Margie to confirm he's looking at tomatoes and she reassures him he is.

"Oh thank God for that," he says.

He still takes pleasure from gardening: "It's so invigorating to see it all.

"I mean look at that one up there, that spiky one, I can't remember the name of that now."

"Holly", chips in his wife.

'Worst fear'

Margie and John have found their way to cope with their situation, but Margie is unsure what will happen in years to come.

"The future is scary. The thing that frightens me is that he won't know who I am.

"I've seen that happen. I think that's my worst fear."

Sadly their experience is far from unique.

Nearly 1,700 people in Swindon could have Alzheimer's, according to Alzheimer's Society dementia UK' report (2007).

In Wiltshire the figure is 5,520.

That's a lot of people living very similar lives to John and Margie.

It's Dementia Awareness Week this week.

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