When dementia upends a marriage: Inside the emotional journey

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The car was already packed for Park City when Dick Marks asked his wife a question that brought their summer plans to an urgent halt and further tested the strength of their 26-year marriage.

Driving 10 hours from Rancho Mirage to northern Utah was already a much simpler journey than the worldwide touring they’d continued together even after Dick suffered a major stroke a decade earlier. Dick’s walker hadn’t stopped him, with Barbara by his side, from seeing the palaces of St. Petersburg and the grasslands of Africa. Now Barbara had decided that Dick’s worsening health made those trips impractical.

Then finally, impossible.

Just the night before, Dick talked excitedly about the trip and summer away in a rented condo. Then the next morning, as Barbara packed her last few things, Dick walked into the bathroom and asked what she was doing.

“I’m packing my cosmetics and then I’m ready to go,” Barbara said.

“But those are Barbara’s things,” he said.

The response gave her a chill. The dementia and paranoia she’d maneuvered since Dick’s stroke had suddenly advanced to a new horrific stage where he thought his wife was an impostor.

“It was almost like a psychotic break,” Barbara, 75, says now. “We wound up in the hospital. We never went to Park City. And that was the beginning of the end.”

A series of strokes have left Dick with vascular dementia.

 

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