A generous benefactor has given a charity a massive £1million donation in memory of his late wife.
Retired dentist Malcolm Joyce gave the money to the Alzheimer’s Society – one of the largest donations the charity has received from a single donor in its 37-year history.
The 81-year-old made the gesture a year after the death of his wife Jean, who battled dementia in the final years of their marriage after being diagnosed in 2008.
Malcolm is special guest at a thank-you event taking place at Hexham Abbey today (Thursday).
Malcolm, of Tynemouth, said: “Jean was showing signs of memory loss and confusion a couple of years before we were given an actual diagnosis.
“Eventually it became obvious. I’d see her attempting seemingly simple household tasks that she clearly wasn’t capable of doing – and when I’d try to help she’d accuse me of treating her as if she were stupid.
“People have no idea how difficult it is to experience something like that – to watch someone you love go through such frustration.”
Malcolm looked after Jean for as long as possible before she moved into a care home, which became necessary after he was diagnosed with a life-limiting illness himself.
He said: “I was told I had bowel cancer four years ago, but compared with Jean’s condition that seemed relatively unimportant.
“I kept her at home until I started radiotherapy treatment. By then she did not know who I was.”
The couple enjoyed some respite from their daily routines by attending a Singing for the Brain group for people living with dementia and their carers.
Malcolm said: “Jean really enjoyed the sessions – we were regulars at a group in North Shields. In her younger days she used to sing in a dance band, so she loved music.
“After she died I was completely lost. I still am. You can talk to people about Alzheimer’s but it’s just a word.
“Only those who have lived with it know how demanding the condition can be.
“It’s hell really, even more so for the partner of the person who has it, in my opinion.
“People with Alzheimer’s can say hurtful things. Jean would use expressions that just weren’t hers, and even though I knew it was the dementia talking, it would still get to me.
“But then she would forget about it minutes later and tell me how pleased she was to see me.”
Malcolm, who was married to Jean for 58 years, added: “Even though she seemed to have forgotten who I was, her emotional memory remained intact.
“I remember one time, quite close to the end, when I put my arm around her and pulled her close to me and she whispered ‘that’s nice’. That brought me some comfort.
“I truly believe that when it comes to memories, you have to hold on to the best and throw away the rest. That’s what I have tried to do.”
Malcolm hopes his donation will not only aid research but help people to cope with a dementia diagnosis by accessing support at the earliest opportunity.
He said: “If I can save just one couple from going through what we went through it will have been worth it.
“I’m actually thrilled to have given away this money. I thought it was a normal thing to do and was quite surprised when the charity’s Chief Executive, Jeremy Hughes, told me how rare it was. I honestly didn’t expect such a fuss.”
The donation will help to fund a range of services in the north east for people living with dementia and their carers over the coming three years.
Malcolm said: “No one knows I’m wealthy.
“I made a pact with myself very early on in my career that I would not treat dentistry like a business – I was in it to help people.
“Earning money for the sake of it was never an incentive for me, But now that I have some I want it to go to a good cause.
“There must be lots of people in my position who have been affected by dementia, so if I my actions encourage others to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Society that would be a bonus.”
Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes said: “Malcolm’s generous gift is one of the largest donations the Society has ever received from a supporter and will not only make a vital contribution towards advancing care and research for people living with dementia, but will help to reach out to and inspire others to support our fight against this devastating condition.
“Thanks to his backing we will be able to ensure more people in the North East are aware of dementia and the support they can get.”
For more on the Alzheimer’s Society or to make a donation visit www.alzheimers.org.uk