Pat Hume told how her husband would not remember a conversation with someone 30 minutes after it took place. But she also said the illness had not taken away all of her husband’s quality of life.
Ms Hume told RTÉ radio’s Sunday with Miriam programme how her 78-year-old husband was speaking at a conference in Austria in the late 1990s when he became seriously ill.
“He had a ruptured intestine, very severe septicaemia set in. He was on a ventilator and all sorts of machinery. The body was under severe stress. He had no reserves of strength left and the hospital authorities thought he would not make it,” she said.
“Something went wrong with the ventilator and I think it was at that stage that he suffered some brain damage. This, down through the years, has got worse and his memory is now very bad.”
Pat Hume, who has written about her husband in a new book, John Hume — Irish Peacekeeper, said what had happened to her husband was very sad.
“His memory is very bad, Miriam. If John was speaking to you now and I said to him in half an hour, ‘It was lovely to see Miriam’, he would say ‘Where did we see Miriam?’ He just wouldn’t know that he’d seen you. If he was out for a meal, he’d be back for half an hour and I would say ‘It was lovely food we had tonight’ and he would say ‘What food?’”
Pat added that Derry, where the couple live, is a very dementia-friendly city.
“People love John,” she said. “He can go out for a walk. Every taxi in the place will stop for him. So he is extremely lucky in that way. I can go for a walk myself. He can do his crosswords. He can enjoy the paper. So it could be worse.”
She did, however, say her role as a carer can be tough.
“Especially at the end of the day, and you know when somebody asks you the same question 20 times and you’re giving the same answers, and it’s very hard to get up the energy to be pleasant, so it can be tough,” she said.
She said her husband would attend the Derry launch of the book, but would not be in Dublin.
“For a man who travelled the world non-stop, he doesn’t like being away from home now. He loves Derry. He loves going down to Donegal because they’re very familiar to him. He doesn’t like going to Dublin... and John loved Dublin.”