Poul and Else were married for 57 years. For the last four, their granddaughter, photographer Sofie Mathiassen, documented their life together while Poul progressed through the stages of Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Else stayed by Poul’s side until his death, first in their home in Skanderborg, Denmark, and later in a nursing home when it became too hard to care for him at home. She visited every day.

Mathiassen’s photographs are an intimate window into the end of a life, and a lifelong partnership. They are testament to a specific love story, but they will also be familiar to anyone who has cared for a loved one with dementia. “Else and Poul’s story is very universal,” Mathiassen told STAT, “because it deals with themes and emotions recognizable for many people whether you have dementia or not.”

The project was recently recognized by The Bob and Diane Fund photography grant, which supports visual storytelling about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Caption text by Sofie Mathiassen

Alzheimer's photo essay
Poul became slower and more unbalanced physically and mentally over the past few years. Else used to lock all the doors in their house to prevent Poul from walking out at night. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“Poul was a lieutenant when I was a nurse at the hospital in Randers. Then some friends of mine invited me to the barracks for dinner, and then there was Poul. … Well, then we started seeing each other and that was it.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“One day he was brushing his teeth when he said to me: ‘I can’t control the toothbrush.’ And then it started. All the losses. So many losses. Whenever we met with friends, he would ask them their names.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
For a long time, Else took care of her husband in their home. In July 2016 he moved into a local nursing home to relieve Else. She visited him every day. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Dinnertime. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Else talking on the phone with a girlfriend about Poul’s situation. She often felt depressed and once started seeing a therapist but didn’t think that helped. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Wedding, July 1, 1961.
“Poul was in Copenhagen and I was in Randers. So, we met in Aarhus Saturday noon and got married Saturday afternoon. The pastor escorted us to the altar. There wasn’t even any organ music. It was a small wedding.”
Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“Sometimes we had small moments where we could reach [each] other.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“The staff is kind, but they never comb his hair the right way. So I have to do it, or he doesn’t look like my Poul.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
When the nurses told Else that Poul could die soon, she stayed with him all the time at the nursing home, sleeping on a mattress next to his bed. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“You keep loving each other. No matter what, no matter sickness. He was my husband. We’ve been together all life, we were supposed to be together until we couldn’t anymore.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Poul died April 9, 2018. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
One week after Poul died, Else celebrated her 84th birthday. She lives alone in their house and plans to stay there. Sofie Mathiassen
  • I cared for my husband for years. Had to leave him for two days at a compassionate care center so I could go to our grandson’s wedding. He was so good about this & when I was leaving, he said “Be careful..I love you”. He passed in the early morning..3:30am, the day of wedding. Miss him so very much. We were married for 63 years. My friend, sidekick & leader.

  • This is my mom she has dementia my dad just passed they were married 70 years on the 10 th of Dec the dad my dad passed sitting here crying thank you .Hope I can take care of her till the end of her life at home

  • My husband was just diagnosed with the same diseases as Poul . I am devastated because I know the inevitability which is to follow . His was the beautiful mind . We had so much linkage intellectually and he never bored me . Bless Else . I’m not certain I could be as good a person as she is . That bothers me immensely . I feel myself sinking into a deep depression which points out my selfishness even more . This hideous disease punishes both the victim and the caretaker . It’s allowed me realize how fortunate the people who die of strokes, heart attacks or anything which takes them quickly , truly are .

  • Such a wonderful touching story of love that is so hard to find now a days. Thanks for sharing such an intimate story of genuine love.

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