A woman who believed her husband no longer loved her was heartbroken to learn he actually had early-onset dementia at just 46.
Michelle Macadangdang, 45, from Grays, Essex, feared her husband David, now 50, had fallen out of love with her because he had grown increasingly distant and withdrawn.
Macadangdang even arranged for relationship counselling, but her husband continued to behave oddly.
Things came to a head when the police called the mum-of-two in the early hours of the morning after finding her husband disorientated and driving erratically.
Concerned that his personality and actions were becoming increasingly odd, Macadangdang arranged for him to see a private consultant, who ran a series of tests before diagnosing him with dementia.
"I’m not sure if it was denial, but when David was first diagnosed, all he kept saying was that he felt fine," explains Macadangdang, who works as a care home regional director.
“Then, back home that night, he asked me if he was going to die. I’d tried to be strong for him and the children. I didn’t want them to see me upset, so I went and took a shower and just stood there sobbing.
“Because I work in care homes, I know the end result of dementia. I know there's no cure."
Macadangdang is opening up about her heartache in grieving for a man who is still physically here to raise awareness about the condition and support the charity Alzheimer's Society.
“When David was first diagnosed, I was offered bereavement counselling. At first I thought, ‘Why? My husband is still here'," she says.
“But I have gone through a loss, in a sense. I’ve lost my friend, somebody to talk to. Somebody to help me make decisions about parenting, or offload to after a long day.”
Macadangdang says that though her husband knows who his family is, he can no longer have a conversation with them.
"I miss my husband and have lost so much of him before he has physically gone," she adds. "It’s like I’ve become one person when I used to be two.”
Michelle was just 17 and David, 22, when the couple fell in love after meeting through mutual friends.
Their relationship went from strength to strength and they married in August 1998, going on to have two children, Samuel, 16, and Madison, 11.
The couple’s dementia battle began in 2014, when Macadangdang noticed her husband was becoming increasingly forgetful.
“At first we joked, saying it was just a man thing. But I had a nagging feeling that it was something more, so I asked a colleague if she could do a mental cognition test with David,” she says.
The results didn't reveal anything concerning, but Macadangdang could not shake the feeling that something was seriously wrong.
“I confronted him about it and asked if he’d fallen out of love with me," she says. "He reassured me that he hadn’t, but I was still worried about our relationship, so we agreed we’d go to relationship counselling.
“I found that really helpful, but he didn’t engage with it. It seemed to make him anxious and stressed, so we stopped.”
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By 2015, things had still not improved, so Macadangdang took her husband to the GP.
He was referred to a consultant neurologist, who diagnosed him with pseudodementia – a condition that can mimic the symptoms of dementia, but is usually caused by low mood rather than a decline in neurological function – and prescribed antidepressants.
But in summer 2016, the family went on holiday to Cuba and a concerning episode occurred.
“I remember watching David go up to the bar to get a drink, then when he turned back round, he seemed really disoriented," Macadangdang recalls.
“He couldn’t find his way back to the table – to the point where Samuel had to go and get him. Having worked with people with dementia, I think I knew then that’s what was happening. I just didn’t want to face it.”
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Back in the UK, Macadangdang continued to be concerned about her husband's behaviour as he returned home from work later and later.
“I had no idea what was going on or where he’d been," Macadangdang says. "Now, looking back, I can see that it’s likely he was becoming disoriented on the way home."
Then in October that year, a phone call from the police in the middle of the night changed everything.
“Officers told me they’d found David driving erratically and said that he didn’t seem to know what was going on," Macadangdang says.
“They were really concerned. They’d done a sobriety test and he was completely sober, so they knew it was something more.”
Having taken her husband straight to A&E, Macadangdang was surprised when the tests came back clear, so the couple booked a private appointment at Nuffield Health Hospital in Brentwood, Essex, for the following day.
There a consultant ran yet more tests, including a psychological evaluation, before giving a dementia diagnosis.
“He told me, ‘I’m afraid to say that your husband has early signs of what looks like Alzheimer’s,’” Macadangdang recalls.
“To hear what I already knew deep down hit me like a rock. There’s no family history of the condition. It was a complete bombshell.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, although the condition, which sees brain function progressively decline, mostly affects over-65s, younger people can be diagnosed too.
The charity estimates that more than 42,000 people under 65 are currently living with some form of dementia in the UK, making up just under 5% of the total 850,000 cases.
“It took me a long time to accept the diagnosis,” admits Macadangdang.
At first, Macadangdang's husband enjoyed snatches of normality with his family, taking holidays to Iceland and Monaco, but since 2020 his decline has been rapid and he now requires round-the-clock care to help with tasks like feeding and dressing, while his mobility has severely decreased.
“We don’t share a bed any more,” Macadangdang says. “Our bedroom was on the third floor of the house and David struggled too much with the stairs, so he has a bed on the first floor now.
“He doesn’t initiate conversation, but he can respond. We can tell he’s listening – he’s just not an active participant. But his facial recognition tells me that he still knows who we all are.”
“Dementia can affect anybody – it doesn’t discriminate," Macadangdang says. "To look at me, you’d see a smiling, positive woman, but the truth is that everybody has hidden pain – and I’m sharing mine.
“Nothing can compare to or prepare you for a diagnosis like this, but as a family we have tried to handle everything with dignity, and find normality where we can.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, so the more research that can go towards one day finding a cure, the better."
Sign up to Trek26 or complete a Memory Walk this March for someone affected by dementia. Find out more at alzheimers.org.uk/events
Additional reporting PA Real Life.