My wife was scared she would get dementia like her mother

‘She was so brave’: Husband’s words after wife killed herself fearing she was getting dementia like her mother

By Katherine Faulkner

Last updated at 12:13 PM on 28th January 2012


A woman jumped to her death from a cliff top because she feared she was developing the dementia she had seen take a grip of her late mother.

Unable to face becoming a burden on her family, Judith Iles, 60, wrote a suicide note to her husband and son which read: ‘So sorry – I’m turning into my mum – I couldn’t stand that.’

Last night her husband Tony said he did not blame her for choosing to end her life rather than suffer as her mother had.

Suicide: Judith Iles, a retired GP surgery administrator, left a note for her husband and son Matthew (pictured) before jumping off a cliff
Beauty spot: The 60-year-old jumped 70 feet to her death in the Wye Valley

An inquest heard she jumped 70ft to her death at the Wintour’s Leap beauty spot in the Wye Valley in Gloucestershire, where she used to take walks before her illness.

‘I never thought Judith would do this, but actually, I think it was very brave,’ Mr Iles said. ‘For her, Alzheimer’s was a fate worse than death. It was her greatest fear.’

He said his wife had adored her mother and was haunted by the memory of her illness.

Judith watched her father spoon-feed her mother for 20 years,’ he added.

‘The memories haunted her. She would often say she couldn’t bear to put us through that.’

Devastated: Mrs Iles’s husband Tony

Mr Iles said his wife of more than 30 years had loved life and ‘had a real sense of adventure’ before becoming ill.

When she retired from her job as an administrator at a GP’s surgery, the couple had been ‘intending to enjoy life’ and travel all over the world. Last March they celebrated their 31st anniversary. Mr Iles said: ‘Our son had just been promoted and it was such a happy time. We thought life couldn’t get any better.’

But within a few months, her deteriorating health was making it difficult for the couple to do the things they had planned.

They had to cancel several holidays after she suffered chest infections and panic attacks.

‘She would panic at nothing,’ Mr Iles said. ‘She knew it was ludicrous but she couldn’t stop.

‘Judith would say: “this is how my mother started”.’

Convinced she was in the early stages of dementia, Mrs Iles became increasingly anxious and unable to sleep.

‘She tried to get help, but nothing worked,’ Mr Iles said.

‘She was referred to the mental health team but they said she was not suffering from a mental health problem and they could not help her.’

Within a few months, she stopped going out at all, and no longer wanted to see lifelong friends.

Even seeing her son Matthew became too much of an effort.

Tragic: Mrs Iles told her husband she was going into Chepstow, pictured, but after failing to return home she was reported missing

‘She made a monumental effort in front of Matthew not to look poorly,’ Mr Iles said.

‘But after his visits she would almost wish he hadn’t come – not because she didn’t want to see him, but because it was so difficult for her.’ In October last year, Mrs Iles told her husband she was going into town.

At the time he had been ‘pleased’ to hear that she wanted to go out, Mr Iles said. But after a few hours,  he and Matthew, a Bristol University chemistry graduate who  now works in cancer research, became worried and started searching for her.

They found her body at the foot of a cliff in a disused riverside quarry in Tutshill, near their home in Chepstow.

A post mortem examination found she had died from multiple injuries. Returning a verdict of suicide, assistant deputy Gloucestershire coroner Katy Skerrett said: ‘It appears that she and her husband had a happy life until last year, but she became stressed and anxious and deteriorated very rapidly despite efforts to find help from many sources.

‘Having seen the note she left and taking it with the other evidence, I can be sure that she intended to take her own life and did so.’

Mr Iles said his wife should have got ‘better care’ from doctors when she sought help for her anxiety.

‘The doctor said it was anxiety in his referral, and the local mental health team replied saying it “did not meet the criteria of serious mental illness”,’ he said.

‘Six weeks later she’s jumped off a cliff – how’s that not  mental illness?’

He said he now wanted an inquiry into why his wife was not given the help she needed sooner.

‘I don’t want anyone else to have to suffer how she did,’ he added.


1 Comment

  1. Phyllis Palm says:

    As the daughter of an Alzheimer sufferer and a caregiver to my husband whose Alzheimer’s disease anxiety caused him to lash out violently against me, I can empathize with the wife and with the family.
    I do agree it takes a lot of courage to take one’s life by jumping off a cliff, but with dementia, one’s decision-making skills are affected and decisions are not made rationally.
    As a psychologist, I sadly also know, that if someone is intent on killing herelf, she will do it, no matter what level of outpatient care she receives.

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