On 29 September 2001, Alan suffered a brain injury following a road traffic accident, which resulted in cognitive difficulties including short term memory loss. In the early stages of recovery Alan’s memory loss was significant.
His wife, Sarah, recalls the impact of Alan’s memory loss when he was taken off life support:
“It wasn’t Alan. It wasn’t the guy I married. His behaviour changed and he was so angry. He didn’t understand that he was in hospital. He thought that he was in prison. I tried to explain that he was in hospital but even though he could see the nurses he kept repeating that he was in prison. He couldn’t retain the information I was giving him.
“I was anxious and upset and angry. I was angry at everybody even my own family. I just wanted to protect Alan”.
Different parts of the brain store different information which can result in individuals losing some memories whilst retaining others. In Alan’s case he could remember some procedural information, but he could not remember Sarah.
“When he came home, he didn’t want to be there with me. He sat in a chair and he could remember that it was a recliner chair. He dialled my dad’s number from memory to say ‘I am home’ and then hung up. And he knew I was his wife, but he couldn’t remember living with me. I don’t know if that makes sense – it didn’t make sense to me at the time”.
Alan and Sarah have been on a long journey since the accident. And Sarah attributes most of Alan’s recovery to his time at Headway who taught him strategies to remember things.
“The support he has from them helps. He doesn’t have to worry about using the wrong words at Headway, he has friends there.
And in the beginning, if I didn’t meet Andrew Harding and his team, I don’t think I would have coped very well. Andrew gave me a book to read when we first met; ‘Head Injury: A Practical Guide’ by Trevor Powell. I read the book and for the first time, it felt like I wasn’t on my own.
I speak on a daily basis with members of the Court of Protection department. They are part of our family now.”
There are still some memories from before the accident that Alan is unable to recall. For example, Alan and Sarah were married for 6 years when Alan had his accident. He still cannot remember their wedding day. However, Alan and Sarah renewed their vows on their 20th wedding anniversary, so Alan would have a wedding day he could remember.
In March 2003, almost two years after Alan’s accident, their son Ieuan was born. Sarah explains that for the first ten years after the accident, Alan’s actions would be compared to ‘pre-accident Alan’, whereas Ieuan doesn’t have that comparison to make.
“He has just grown up with Alan being like this. He, probably naturally, has never got angry with him and they are more mates than father and son. He always takes his dad’s side!”
Alan still suffers from short term memory loss. He sometimes needs to rely on Sarah, for example, if he travels somewhere and then forgets how to get home. But ultimately, with the assistance of Headway and a lot of hard work, Alan is able to manage his memory loss and continue with day to day life.
“Alan has always been my soulmate and he always will be. He just has a different personality, but it’s a personality that I have learnt to love. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may not be the same light as before, but things do get easier. If you are a strong person then you can get through.”