Before Godfrey’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis three years ago, he frequently experienced memory problems. He says: “I started forgetting things and it got worse and worse. More and more often I was forgetting people’s names and even words. I always had a problem remembering birthdays and telephone numbers but it got a lot harder and I had to rely on my notebook for most of my information. I felt I was going mad at times because I could be OK when the family turned up - they didn’t see a problem!
“I spoke to my doctor, underwent some tests and when the results came back I found out that I had Alzheimer’s.”
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting an estimated 850,000 people in the UK alone. It affects multiple brain functions, including memory, and the exact cause is unknown. Experts believe a number of things could increase the risk of developing the condition, such as old age or family history.
Godfrey says: “Having Alzheimer’s is like living in slow motion. I can’t think as fast and have banter with other people like I used to. The big problem is how other people treat you. If you’re with someone else then you’re often treated like you’re not there or you’re stupid.
“People seem to think anyone with Alzheimer’s will forget anything straight away and so we’re not worth talking to. This is not the case. Yes we forget things but I have found the hard way that you need the contact with other people to keep your brain active or you will quickly get worse and it’ll make you feel down and depressed.
“When I was diagnosed, I started staying in my room instead of talking to anyone else. I used to go to the lounge every day but instead just sat on my own and watched the telly.”
Godfrey started learning to use a computer when he met the team from Age UK South Tyneside, but initially, he took a bit of convincing. He says: “When the girls came in to do the computers I wasn’t interested but they kept coming over and trying to get me to join in. They were using YouTube to play some music and I like Frank Sinatra, so when they started playing him I went to see what they were doing.
“From then on they tried to teach me how to use a computer but it was hard to remember things, even with a cheat sheet.”
When it became clear that Godfrey needed a little extra help getting to grips with the online world, the girls from Age UK decided to try a different approach. Godfrey explains: “They tried something strange and started using different sprays when I was learning things. When we did emails they sprayed Pledge and when we were using Google they sprayed air freshener.
“When they left I was trying to send an email myself but was really having problems. I saw the pledge on the cabinet and tried spraying some. It really did seem to help and although it was still hard I managed to struggle through and send an email to my son.
“I told the girls next time they came and they thought that was great so every time we tried something new they found another smell and we ended up with 4 different bottles near my computer so I can spray them to help me do things.
“It sounds really stupid but I’ve found that it really does help me!”
Once Godfrey had mastered the basics he started developing his digital health skills. He says: “I went onto the NHS web pages and looked up Alzheimer’s to find information and then find out what help was out there. I went on the Alzheimer’s Society page and found out about ‘Singing for the Brain’ and the local dementia cafe, so I now go to both of them.
“I looked at what activities I could do and I joined a walking group and then walking football. I now go to the ‘Men in Sheds’ as well. I’ve been to my doctor and I can now get on their website and get an appointment. I’ve even started getting my pills using the computer, which saves a lot of time and hassle.”
The internet really has been a life-line for Godfrey. He says: “I think I’m now using my brain more and using the computer has let me start doing more exercise, which helps me. When I want to talk to someone or if I’m feeling sorry for myself I know I can click on one button and I can talk to my son, I can click on another and talk to my daughter - another lets me talk to my grandson in Australia. It’s great!
“My family say it lets them keep an eye on me - I think being able to see me and talk to me means they don’t have to worry.
“I like to be able to do things for myself. It’s taken a long time but I’m doing much more than before and I want to do more and more before my Alzheimer’s gets worse.
“I absolutely love looking for old music and finding things I haven’t heard before. The suggestions on YouTube mean I now listen to people like Sea Sick Steve. My grandson now thinks I am cool.”
Godfrey is now very much looking forward to the future thanks to his new digital skills, and would recommend getting online to anyone else who feels the same way he did when he started out. He says: “The girls and other people from Age UK come to me so I don’t have to go to a centre, but I have gone down there because they gave me a camera to take on a couple of walks and they helped me put the pictures on the computer. They even helped me to write a few lines so I can remember them later. I think that is a very good idea and it makes me smile.
“When I’m online I still feel a little nervous if I’m on my own so I stick to my favourites, but I know I can find so many things and even go on virtual trips wherever I want with Google Maps.
“I just want to do as much as I can and I know I have people who can help me try new things and keep me secure.
“I would say that everyone should learn to get online. You don’t realise what you can do until you try it out and it has really helped me stop feeling sorry for myself, snap out of my depression and start looking forward to things again.”
To find out more about Good Things Foundation’s work on the NHS Widening Digital Participation Programme please visit: http://nhs.tinderfoundation.org.