Barry and Julie have been married for over fifty years, East Londoners originally, they now live in Essex. Three years ago, Julie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and has been attending ECL Loughton – Jessop’s Court Day Centre ever since.
Barry, 75 and Julie, 77 met for the first time in 1969 in a nightclub near Hanover Square in London. Barry spotted Julie across the room with some mutual friends, he said: “I thought - she's just lovely, she'll do nicely.”
Julie had arrived at the club that night in a friend’s Aston Martin, but after an evening chatting with Barry, opted to catch the bus home with him. Barry said: “That’s when I knew she must’ve liked me! She later told me she had designs on me the moment she saw me.”
The pair were married in June 1972, with a big family celebration in the pouring rain. Barry said: “I think they say that’s good luck, don’t they? Well, it has been so far anyway!”
Both Barry and Julie loved to explore and spent their first few years as a married couple travelling, before they had their baby girl, Alexandra who has now grown up to have two boys of her own.
Barry was a photographer, whilst Julie spent her career in various roles caring for others. She was a teaching assistant in a special needs school and later, a carer for elderly people with dementia, Barry said: “She’s always had a way with people, she is very good at making people feel comfortable, she’s very caring.”
Julie was still working at the special needs school when Barry started to notice a little forgetfulness, he said: “There were instances a few years before when there was confusion, but I just put it down to getting older. But after scans, and going to the memory clinic, this day, three years ago, we got the phone call to say that Julie has got Alzheimer's disease.
“I was so shocked, Julie’s always been very sharp, we just didn’t think it would happen to us.
“I look after Julie myself at home, she’s still quite mobile, but she is forgetful, so for example, she washes herself, but I stand by the shower and turn it on for her, pass her the soap, etc.
“When she’s having a good day it’s fine, but when Julie has a bad day, I think, oh dear, I'm struggling. I never thought getting old would be like this. I thought we'd just disappear into old age and keep on going on holiday. Now, we can’t do much. We don't go on holiday because I’m too worried about Julie. Plus, I’m often up all through the night, as Julie gets up and gets ready for ‘work’ at 12pm.
“I say it's going to be one of the hardest things you'll ever do in your life, and I think it's proven to be that.”
When Julie was diagnosed, she was referred to ECL Loughton - Jessops Court Day Centre, and she now goes there four days a week. Barry said: “I was worried at first, as I didn’t know how she would be, and if she would settle. You know, I have this thing, and I’ve had it my whole life, where I walk into a building, a room, and I just get a sense for the place. It’s invisible. I can't grab it, I can't touch it, but I can sense it. And when I walked into ECL I just got this great feeling, and I could tell Julie did too.
“She just walked in, and it was like she'd been going down there forever. Straight away she seemed to be at ease, and to me that is worth its weight in gold. I might as well have not existed, she was gone! She was in there chatting to people and didn’t even look around to see if I was still there.”
The team have discovered the thing that makes Julie the happiest, is keeping her busy. Barry said: “We kid on like Julie works at ECL, I help her get ready for her shift and walk her to work, she goes in, hangs up her coat and gets going. She’ll help make cups of tea and toasted crumpets, she waters the plants, she’ll set the table and even goes with one of the staff members to the supermarket on Mondays.
“Julie has spent her whole life looking after people, so it makes sense that continuing to do that makes her feel calm and content. The team at the centre are so great at adapting their care to what Julie needs.”
While Julie is happily pottering at ECL, Barry is able to take some time for himself. He said: “When she’s at home, I daren’t even sit down in case I fall asleep. A little while ago I fell asleep but had forgotten to lock the door and Julie got out. The police found her and took her back thankfully, but it terrified me, so those four days a week, six hours a day are like a lifeline for me. To sit back, and properly relax, with nothing on my mind is priceless. Knowing she’s truly happy and safe takes a weight off like you wouldn’t believe. It's a win-win situation for us, Julie gets something out of it and so do I.
“Without it the two of us would really struggle. God forbid it ever closes because I don't know what I'll do.”
ECL’s person-centred approach recognises that each customer needs different support. So, whether that be reminiscence activities, doll and pet therapy or keeping them busy like Julie, we’re there to help.