Alzheimers ends glittering career for Linslade scholar

IN the 1990s Beric Morley was a regular fixture alongside presenter Tony Robinson in Channel 4's Time Team. If there was a castle that needed unearthing then historic building's expert Beric was your man.

When not rooting around in trenches from Devon to Yorkshire the passionate historian, who lives with his wife Judith, in Milebush, Linslade, was to be found at work with English Heritage where he was a regional director for the south west.

Beric Morley was a brilliant mathematician with a masters degree in theoretical physics, who once taught a young Michael Portillo, a man who lived and breathed archaeology, who travelled the world lecturing on historic buildings, an intellectual, an author and academic who has dedicated his life to unravelling the mysteries of our past.

The bearded father of three took early retirement to fulfil his life's dream, to complete a PHD about his first love, castles.

But Beric's dreams were cruelly snatched from him when seven years ago he walked out of a shop and suddenly realised he couldn't remember where he was. His concentration was failing him and the Morley's went to their GP for help. When early alzheimer's disease was diagnosed all thoughts of continuing his academic research were dashed.

Alzheimer's has been described by the recently diagnosed cult author Terry Pratchett as a "living death." It has claimed the lives of high profile figures including writer, Iris Murdoch, journalist and presenter Bernard Levin, statesmen Ronald Reagan and Harold Wilson.

Actor Charlton Heston, who died recently, also admitted suffering from the disease. Tony Robinson's own mother died from it after enduring appalling treatment in a care home.

Now Beric and Judith have spoken out about their struggle to come to terms with the disease which is slowly robbing a highly intelligent man of his ability to think and function. They know that it is terminal and they are powerless to combat something that strikes at random and is incurable.

"We are where we were with cancer 30 years ago," said Judith. "People don't like talking about it. It's a taboo subject and a lot of people suffer at home, and their families suffer, without seeking any help or treatment because they don't want anyone to know about it.

"Some people think it is all part of getting old. People put it down to being old or forgetful. They don't seem to think it's hereditary but they just don't know why some people suffer from it and not others.

"Terry Pratchett's very public announcement that he has alzheimer's, and his 500,000 donation to research into the disease, has brought much needed publicity. There isn't anywhere nearly enough done because there hasn't been the money. It wasn't a high profile illness."

For the past year The Luton and South Beds Alzheimer's Society has run a drop-in centre, the Alz Club, in the Trinity Methodist Church, Leighton, for both sufferers and their carers. It's staffed by friendly faces who offer expert advice and it provides a lifeline for families.

Since being diagnosed in 2004 Beric has lived quietly at home with Judith and all their plans and dreams for a full retirement together have been put on hold.

They are a devoted couple but spending 24-hours a day with each other has taken its toll. Judith has been treated for depression as she struggles to come to terms with her husband's worsening dementia.

The couple met down a hole on an archaeological dig at the Roman palace at Fishbourne, Sussex when both were at university, Judith at Durham where she was studying psychology and Beric at Southampton.

Beric initially went into teaching before embarking on his true love of archaeology, spending 30 years in the profession, while Judith became a home-maker, working at both Southcott School and at the town's Citizen's Advice Bureau as well as raising sons George, and twins Edward and Richard.

Now Judith has another role, that of caring for the needs of Beric, who can't be left alone for long periods. She is adamant that she wants to care for him at home for as long as she can.

Said Judith: "Beric took early retirement at 51 from English Heritage because he wanted to concentrate on his life's work about castles."

"But I found it harder to concentrate," said Beric. "Then I did that classic of getting lost in Northampton, a town I'd frequently visited and knew well.

"I came out of this shop, turned around, and thought 'where the hell am I?'"

Alzheimer's in the under 65s is still comparatively rare. It's an illness that mainly afflicts the elderly and leads to confusion, forgetfulness and deterioration, sometimes violence, and frustration as more of the brain is lost to the disease.

The couple sought medical help. "It was almost a relief to know that I wasn't going off the rails," said Beric.

"We're both facing a life sentence," added Judith. "It's getting more difficult. One of the problems, when I asked our consultant about how long he had, was that they just don't know.

"Beric had just turned 60 and this has taken away the retirement we had expected. Life is very different to what we had anticipated. We were going to travel, enjoy the rest of our life together. Now we can't do that.

"My father retired in his mid 60s and he and my mother had a good and fulfilling 20 extra years together. I thought we'd have at least that.

"Now I have to do all the driving, have the full responsibility for running the household, have to make all the decisions for both of us.

"Edward stills lives in Leighton and he offers his support when he can but we often make use of the drop-in centre and we've made some lovely friends there. Our GP has also been wonderful.

"Because I worked at the CAB I knew about the Alzheimer's Society and they put me in touch with the local branch who put us in contact with an outreach worker. People should know that there is help out there.

"But I have noticed that if I am feeling down then he is down too, and vice versa. Alzheimer's affects both of us. It's very easy to just sit and do nothing at home. We have to make more effort to go out.

"We do still support each other but this illness can be very isolating. We're together all the time. I wouldn't ever leave him in the house for long.

"I could knock up a meal if I had to," interjects Beric. "No, you couldn't," replies Judith.

"The thing is you are not gaga or stupid. You haven't lost your intelligence, you have lost your memory. You've still got a sense of humour."

But Beric admits that living with alzheimer's was "not jolly."

"Fortunately I had plenty of opportunities to travel abroad when I've taken parties to historical sites and I've lectured extensively," added Beric.

"I loved the lecturing and appearing on Time Team. Now all I can do is a bit of reading and sit around the house.

"To be honest I've had such a smashing life. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I try not to think about what is going to happen to me because it's upsetting.

"We are all very different in the way the disease affects us. When I first had it I was still very capable of doing some lecturing" (though Judith disagrees with this recollection).

"My PHD was going to be the summation of my life's work but I couldn't continue with it. It would have been too intricate and I couldn't hold on to ideas.

"It's very easy to get upset that I now can't read the books I used to. I can just about get through a copy of the New Scientist. Novels are out but I'm not too bad with biographies.

"If you get this thing it's very difficult for people to understand how much is blanked out. Whole bits of my memory have gone and will never return."

Judith said that at present cancer research gets ten times the funding that alzheimer's receives, plus the extensive cash from the cancer charities.

"These days a lot of people don't die from cancer but this is a death sentence. They're working on research at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital but it's hampered by lack of funding.

"We know there's no cure but there's a lot that can be done to improve a sufferer's quality of life.

"We need more awareness for the disease and more funding. Care workers need to be properly taught how to cope with it. Many have very little knowledge about how to deal with dementia patients.

"Terry Pratchett's money will help but it is not nearly enough. There needs a lot more cash put into research."

The Leighton drop-in centre runs from 10am until 2pm each Monday. For information and details contact Avril Clark, area co-ordinator for Leighton, Dunstable and Luton, 07930894206.