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Not even Alzheimer’s can stop love

You would never say that Mari Carmen Tous is 85 years old. She explains that she was one of the first women to ride a Vespa in Barcelona. The boys of that time did not want to go in the back of their motorcycle. "They were very sexist," she says. Mari Carmen likes to watch TV debates and football. She talks about Barça, Madrid, Sevilla, the last Spain-England game and how frustrating national politics are. Her blond hair looks beautiful and well nurtured. She also says that she does not like to show her grief on the street, but that she cries a lot in her house.
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ari Carmen married Pepe 58 years ago and since more than two years she visits him every day in a residence. Because, for more than two years, Pepe has Alzheimer’s. “He and I were a unit,” says Mari Carmen. “You believe that you will end your life with the person with whom you have built it, and then a day comes when your partner becomes a being that neither feels nor suffers”.

Every four seconds a new case of dementia is diagnosed in the world and, in Spain, one out of every ten people over 65 has Alzheimer’s disease. Their caregivers have to be 24 hours a day close to the patient. That is why Mari Carmen spends every afternoon at her husband’s residence. She shaves him daily and gives her the snack she brings. “The food is fine, but I bring him jelly and vanilla cookies that he can eat because he is diabetic.”

Pepe’s disease began in 2003. “He did strange things,” says Mari Carmen. The doctor asked them to buy notebooks with rehabilitation, memory and attention exercises, and told them to come back after three months. But Pepe did not want to do them, nor return to his appointment with the doctor.

The disease continued to evolve until, at the end of 2010, the situation was unsustainable. Mari Carmen says that her husband had become a mischievous child. “It was very hard. It is something that cannot be explained”. She remembers astonished that what make her fall in love with him was his courage! Now she says she cannot find that vivid Pepe, intelligent and full of courage.

For this woman, Alzheimer’s is “a continued sadness, a continuous need to look after”. Mari Carmen controls her husband’s blood sugar. She takes him to the oculist and the dentist. She feeds him. Each afternoon she brings him the watch and the sunglasses that he likes so much. He wears cologne, because “he is very snooty.” And she buys good creams that “are not covered by the insurance”. Actually, her dream, if she could afford it economically, is to take him home so they can dine together, holding hands. “It’s not a crazy love,” says Mari Carmen. It is more the spirit of protection that comes out when seeing him so helpless. “The sadness I feel comes from the fact that I love him so much”.

On September 21st it was the World Alzheimer’s Day. In Spain there are about 800,000 people diagnosed with dementia and, because of the increase of life expectancy, this figure could triple by 2050, reaching epidemic dimensions. As stories like that of Mari Carmen makes clear, it is a very demanding illness for family members. Therefore, the psychological support that is given to all of them by entities such as the Pasqual Maragall Foundation is essential.

This foundation together with the Obra Social “la Caixa” launched, on World Alzheimer’s Day, a campaign to promote awareness that. A campaign that, after being active in Barcelona the previous year, covered in white one hundred plaques of ten streets in the Opera district of Madrid.

The campaign, called “Streets in white”, lasted until September 24th and, in addition to explaining what this disease means for those who suffer, wanted to emphasize the importance of investing in research, of understanding how Alzheimer’s works, and therefore, to try to prevent it or diagnose it in time. Maybe that’s how we would get fewer people going blank, and more couples, like Mari Carmen and Pepe, could end their lives together being who they were when they met.

Text: Laura Calçada
Photography: Javi O. San Martín

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