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
  • Yes, this is what it looks like. The photos are beautiful – respectful, loving, honest, REAL.
    Thank you Thank you.

  • That was me when my husband died with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s dementia. Jim was only 69 but the photo matched in so many ways.

  • What a beautiful story. Obviously sad. It had special meaning to me as Alzheimer’s runs rampant down the female side of my family. We males have cornered the cancer market!

  • A beautiful but sad srory. My parents emigrated from Denmark in 1923. My precious husband is getting quite forgetful. We have been married 65 years.

  • It gives me hope that this situation can be seen as beautiful by others. I’ve been caring for my husband for the last 5 years as he diminishes and slips away from who he was. We’ve been married for 45 years and I struggle every day with what we have lost. But this story displays what it is all about- loving to the end, for better or for worse.

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