Monday 20 February 2023 was a day that I never thought would happen. It was the day my wife Lorraine and I set off for a cruise around South America. We have always enjoyed travelling, in particular cruising - the opportunity to sample many different places in one holiday without having to pack and repack the case. We booked in 2021, a long-awaited bucket list trip that had always been put off as other destinations took priority. We’ve been lucky, we both have had relatively good health and good jobs.

Then, in January 2022, at the age of 58, I was diagnosed with dementia – a younger onset Alzheimer’s subtype. At this point, there is a moment where your world has collapsed - what’s going to happen? how long have I got? no more work? how are we going to live? – these were just a few of my thoughts. Then I told myself to get a grip - my life has changed but it’s not over. I had to get on and live my life. A turning point for me was getting in touch with Alzheimer Scotland and joining the Scottish Dementia Working Group (SDWG), this gave me a real focus and a sense that my voice was valued and respected. 

Whenever we travelled before my diagnosis, I’d research all the points of interest and produce an itinerary of how long we should spend at each place, the distance and route to the next landmark. However, last year prior to going on medication I was just producing two pieces of paper for our trips, thinking it was okay until my wife said it wasn’t up to my normal standard (in a nice way). I had forgotten how to research properly. Never one to give up though, I started researching using sites that I previously used and Google maps, and it all clicked into place. I think it’s important to highlight that just because a person has dementia life is not over, it has changed but we can still do a lot of things we used to. I used to work at the airport and only officially retired in May 2022.

Stuart on his travels

.As we approached, it felt like I had never been away. Checking in was smooth, then it was off to departures and through to security. In my last weeks of working, I felt the noise going through security was excruciating. and as if my head was going to explode. Now, there were no issues at all, what a difference. We boarded the plane, and we were off to Heathrow then on to Santiago (Chile). We were excited to arrive and ready to start our adventure. We spent a few days exploring the wonderful sights before joining the cruise at Valparaiso - Chile’s main port, well known for its bohemian, artistic vibe and lovely vistas.

After the first week, Lorraine observed a small difference in me. She said that things were taking slightly longer to register with me. On previous cruises, I was able to navigate my way around without any issues, whereas I was now using markers to guide my route - but I still got there. The cruise was amazing. We saw some beautiful sights in Chile such as the statue of the Virgin Mary on San Cristobal Hill, the Osorno Volcano and the Chilean Fjords. We also visited Ushuaia – known as the city at the end of the world, the Falkland Islands, Uruguay, and finished in Buenos Aires (Argentina).

Back home and on dry land I reflected on our time away and the differences of travelling with dementia. I wanted to write about my experience to let people know that you can still live well after a diagnosis. The theme of this year’s Dementia Awareness Week is around challenging the stigma associated with younger onset dementia. I want to let people know that I am still doing and enjoying the things that I did before my diagnosis and as I write this, I am planning my next adventure!

Stuart Dougall on his travels