DISEASE misdiagnosis ruined her husband’s health and caused the loss of their marriage, a long-suffering Brisbane Catholic wife and carer said.
For more than a decade, Pam Ward, a former nurse, has been caring for her husband Norm who has suffered severe memory loss.
“It hits you like a bomb,” Mrs Ward, a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church, Stafford, said.
“For a long time Norm stopped communicating. For the last 11 years I haven’t been Norm’s wife, I have been his carer. So the marriage is finished.”
“I felt like I had leprosy at times,” Mr Ward said.
“Confused. Just not understanding what I’ve got or what’s going on.”
Mr Ward was in his early fifties when he started getting forgetful.
There were moments when he couldn’t remember where he was or what he was doing.
He had to be told things repeatedly.
After suffering tremors, he went to the doctor, and after a referral, a neurologist diagnosed Mr Ward’s condition as Parkinson’s disease.
It all seemed so sudden.
And it was enough to end Mr Ward’s job with the Australian Taxation Office.
He needed to resign after 26 years with the Commonwealth public service because he really couldn’t cope with the workload.
As a nurse, Mrs Ward was sceptical about the diagnosis of Parkinson’s because while the disease can include memory problems, it is usually categorised as a movement disorder, which could account for Norm’s tremors, and the symptoms usually develop slowly and gradually.
“For Norm the memory loss, the lack of concentration – it was all very sudden. You think Parkinson’s shouldn’t be like this,” she said.
“He became, from a person who had an excellent maths brain and excellent memory, to not being able to do those sorts of things.
“Norm was there but no one was home, if you know what I mean.”
Mr Ward was prescribed medication for Parkinson’s disease – Sifrol and later Madopar.
He got work as a cleaner, but couldn’t really hold a normal job because of his memory loss.
In the following years, he struggled with prostate and bladder cancer.
He wasn’t able to drive as his condition deteriorated.
“I basically had to take him everywhere. It became full-time,” Mrs Ward said.
“These are things that we never thought would happen because we thought he had Parkinson’s.”
The Wards received a clue of a misdiagnosis when a doctor at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital started treating Mr Ward and asked to see his brain scans.
The scans, taken five years earlier showed lesions on Mr Ward’s brain, yet the report on the scans read “No abnormality is detected”.
Mrs Ward said the lesions were interpreted as “age-related change”.
The treating hospital doctor said this could indicate a form of dementia but not Parkinson’s.
In May last year after Mr Ward had been suffering an increase in seizures, Mrs Ward stopped giving her husband medication for Parkinson’s.
The seizures stopped and Mr Ward’s health started to markedly improve.
Mr Ward, now 65, is being treated for Younger Onset Alzheimer’s, which usually describes any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65.
The latest figures show that younger onset dementia affects about 25,100 Australians.
Mr Ward is now off all medication, except for a drink called Souvenaid, recommended by his treating specialist.
He is feeling physically healthier and there are even some signs of mental improvement.
“It’s helping me to concentrate,” Mr Ward said.
“And before I was told I had Parkinson’s. Now I know what I’ve got it makes it easer on the family to understand.”
For Mrs Ward, the battle to find the correct diagnosis has now become a story she can share.
“It’s not uncommon for people to be misdiagnosed,” she said.
“I would encourage people to do their own research. Don’t accept the first answer from a doctor.
“I would also say that tremors could be a symptom of many conditions.
“And certainly don’t accept the answer from a doctor that you are just getting old.”