Loneliness Mistaken For Dementia

August 30, 2018

When Clarrie Merrick turned up at the fledgling Waimea Menzshed the 87-year-old engineer had been given three months before heading to a dementia ward.

Waimea Menzshed coordinator Alan Kissell, who helped set up the Waimea club seven years ago, said Merrick’s story was a familiar one.

“It was a typical case of social isolation,” Kissell said.

“He was a man whose wife had died, and he’d been moved away from his friends, his business, and his network (in Auckland).

“He probably came a few months after we opened, and was here for five years with us.”

Merrick had been diagnosed with dementia, but starting making rapid improvements soon after getting involved in the club.

“Six months later his daughter comes back and said; ‘He’s pulling the wool over the doctor’s eyes, because they can’t find anything wrong with him.

“I said: ‘I tell you what, he’s actually a supervisor here at the shed’.”

Merrick became a key part of the organisation.

“There was nothing wrong with him, he’d just been stuck in an apartment, with no friends around and he’d been vegetating basically.

“He was an amazing guy who just had such a wealth of knowledge .. all he needed was some male company, some people who he could share his time with.

“He’d sit down with anyone, he’d always be thinking outside the box about how to approach a project. He was just an inspiration really.”

Kissell said there was a familiar pattern of men who struggled to adjust to life in retirement.

“I believe when they retire they lose their identity to a certain degree.

“They’ve gone from the identity of being Joe Bloggs builder or architect or whatever, and now it’s about where do I fit in?”

Kissell said a common problem for retired men was what he called “underfoot syndrome”.

“A lady might have the house to herself for 40 years, until her husband retires … that puts a bit of pressure on relationships when the guy is sitting at home bored.

“That’s underfoot syndrome, I had one lady say to me she calls her husband “pothole”, because he’s always in the bloody road.”

On his 90th birthday three years later, the club’s new engineering shed was named in honour of its oldest member.

While Merrick passed away in December of 2016, “Clarrie’s Shed” still stands as a reminder of the lasting impression he made on the club during the five years he was there.

There are dozens of Menzsheds located throughout the country, providing retired men a space to work on projects and develop friendships.

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