Dementia robbed Jan and Peter Wareing of their independence, but it couldn't break their unwavering love – or keep them apart.

When Peter, 83, was diagnosed as needing to go into a care facility, Jan was "traumatised" at the thought of being separated from her husband of 56 years, their daughter Alison Shakespeare said.

"I've heard it described as medical divorce. It's the time when people are separated when they actually most need each other," Shakespeare said.

But in what is believed to be a New Zealand first, the couple – both with dementia - were able to stay together and be cared for in a secure apartment in Levin's Summerset by the Ranges retirement village.

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Care centre manager Monique Hayes was determined to reunite Jan and Peter after seeing how they "absolutely adore[d] each other".

Peter Waering and wife Jan were allowed to share an apartment at the Somerset retirement dementia unit in Levin after the centre manager and family applied to the DHB for approval. Photo / Film
Peter Waering and wife Jan were allowed to share an apartment at the Somerset retirement dementia unit in Levin after the centre manager and family applied to the DHB for approval. Photo / Film

When Jan, 85, first moved to Summerset to be close to her husband, last July, she was in the rest home part of the village.

"She wrote these love letters to him, and then would give [them] to me, and I said, 'Jan, I promise I will try everything [so] that you can be with Peter again'," Hayes said.

Summerset successfully applied to MidCentral DHB for the couple to stay together in one of the 20 apartments in their innovative dementia facility. They moved in last October.

The couple, who walked around holding hands, were able to be together for what would be Peter's last six months. He died in March.

Jan, who came to New Zealand from Sydney in 1955 on a working holiday, was a typist for the public service in Wellington and met Peter, who was in administration in the same building. Married in 1961, they had son Neil and then Alison.

Jan and Peter Waering on their wedding day in 1961. Photo / Supplied
Jan and Peter Waering on their wedding day in 1961. Photo / Supplied

In the early '70s Peter started a motorcycle dealership in Paraparaumu. Jan did the office work.

They were "two halves that complete a whole ... they relied on each other, because they were a team", Shakespeare said.

Around 2013, Peter, who Shakespeare noticed had been having little memory lapses, was driving from his Otaki home to Raumati for a dentist appointment and became confused about where he was supposed to be going.

He went to the doctor and was told he had mild cognitive impairment.

His dementia advanced and he moved into Summerset in July 2017. Jan moved into the rest home section the next day.

"Jan longed for him even though she ... visited him every day and she just couldn't understand why she had to go back to her room," Hayes said.

Alison Shakespeare talks about her parents Peter and Jan Waering life living with dementia. Photo / Film
Alison Shakespeare talks about her parents Peter and Jan Waering life living with dementia. Photo / Film

When Jan was reassessed at dementia level, Hayes started the move for her to be able to stay in the same apartment as Peter.

"It was really sweet ... Their greatest wish, really, was to stay together," Shakespeare said.

It has been estimated there are around 60,000 people living with dementia in New Zealand and that number will rise rapidly with our aging population.

Summerset CEO Julian Cook said dementia was fast becoming the most important public health issue for the Western world.

"Alison's tribute to her parents, Jan and Peter, in telling their love story is very brave. It's really important because dementia is not talked about …

"People with dementia and their families often feel very alone in having to make incredibly tough choices about their care."

The couple walked around their rest home often holding hands.
The couple walked around their rest home often holding hands.


Summerset, which operates 23 retirement villages and age-care facilities around the country, was pioneering a new type of dementia care in New Zealand, Cook said.

The 20-bed dementia facility at Levin's Summerset by the Ranges, opened in 2016, where Jan and Peter were cared for, was the first of its kind here, he said.

Jan and Peter were the first couple both living with the condition to be able to share an apartment in a secure dementia facility, he believed.

Dementia New Zealand supports around 4000-5000 people with dementia who are still living independently and their caregivers.

CEO Paul Sullivan believed the estimate of around 60,000 having the condition nationally was "a fairly accurate figure".

Based on population size, there could be 20,000 people in Auckland with dementia, but Dementia Auckland only sees around 2400 people a year.

New Zealand Dementia Cooperative executive director Shereen Moloney said New Zealand's health system has traditionally focused on acute care in hospitals, rather than the care of people with long-term conditions.

But, most people with dementia live at home and Moloney wants to see services and funding change so the health system can support people to live well in the community.