This is an unusual story, one that I’m not qualified to say much about. My grandmother on my mother’s side of the family developed dementia in her 90s, which was terribly sad. She spent a lot of time screaming and talking to herself. I believe there may have been meds that improved her situation, but she died a year or so after the onset of the screaming episodes.
Becky Barletta was just months away from her wedding when people started noticing something was wrong.
She was only 31, so nobody would have expected her to develop dementia.
But the ‘charismatic, blonde bombshell’ ski instructor began acting strangely, her sister Sophie, 30, said.
She became obsessed with her new running regime, which could have been put down to wanting to look her best before getting married.
But then she also started saying things which were out of character, what her family described as ‘inappropriate behaviour with clients on the slopes and not looking after them as well as she had previously.’
She married husband Luca in October 2015.
Less than a year later, she was given a diagnosis of dementia on August 24 and since then has rapidly deteriorated, to the point she now needs round-the-clock care.
‘They say the younger the patient the more rapid it can be and it has been very rapid,’ Sophie said.
‘There is not much of our old Becky left.’
Her condition is known as frontotemporal dementia and has altered her personality beyond recognition.
‘She repeats the same stories to us and says inappropriate things,’ mum-of-two Sophie said.
‘I find it hard when we go out, she is off down the street asking people if they can make a funny noise and that sort of thing.
‘It is not because I am embarrassed, but because I find it so sad to watch.
‘Some people are amazing and do the noises and chat with her but then there and some who not understand, because she looks well from the outside, and can be quite short with her.
‘I stand and think: ‘If you had the honour of meeting Becks when she was well then you wouldn’t be so quick to judge’.’
‘She was such a good ski instructor and especially with children – all her clients loved her.
‘She wasn’t fake tan and nails she was authentically beautiful. She was outdoorsy and outgoing. Everybody loved Becks, she was beautiful. She still is.’
It is unlikely Becky will live beyond ten more years. It will be a rapid deterioration, as the disease progresses she will find it hard to swallow and eventually stop being able to communicate as her body slowly shuts down.
‘I talk about it now as though it is not happening,’ says Sophie.
‘I can’t imagine how hard it is for her husband Luca because they only got married in October 2015.
‘Being a mum is all she ever wanted and she still says now: ‘Three is the magic number,’ because she always wanted three children. She always wanted children but they didn’t get round to it before everything happened.’
Becky was diagnosed by the same doctor at Addenbrooke’s who diagnosed her uncle James with the condition. James sadly died in his 50s
as a result of the disease.
Becky and Sophie’s mother’s cousin Philipa also died from the disease in her 40s. Sophie says her sister’s diagnosis was the youngest case the specialist had ever seen.
But it was not an easy route getting Becky to go for a medical assessment and the family were hoping against hope that it was something else, perhaps the stress of her forthcoming wedding.
But despite tests there is no faulty gene yet discovered which the family carry that explains why some of them develop the condition.
Added to her worry about her sister, Sophie has to deal with the terrifying possibility that she may also develop the disease.
‘As it is hereditary, I’m living with the fear I or my children might get it, so to watch my sister’s deterioration is a daily reminder of how cruel this illness is.
‘We just want a cure so our family and other families don’t have to go through it – whether it is your sister at 31 or your grandma at 90, either way. A lot of people think it is an inevitable part of aging and it isn’t – its a disease.’
Sophie has organised a memory walk raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society, funding research into a world without dementia.
Given the possibility that the disease can be passed on to one’s children, perhaps it’s better that Becky has no children of her own. I assume the tot in the photo is her sister’s child.
Evolution wasn’t kind to us, was it.