‘My wife suddenly started eating sweets all the time, it took us years to understand why’

What was Francesca's illness? What other symptoms did she show?

12 mins read
'My wife suddenly started eating sweets all the time, it took us years to understand why'

At the age of 51, Francesca‘s constant sweet tooth drew the attention of her family and even caused tension at times. It wasn’t until much later that they realized it was a sign of illness. So what was Francesca’s illness? Besides her need for sugar, what were her symptoms?

About 4 years ago, Mark Winterflood noticed some changes in his wife Francesca’s behavior. Francesca was craving sweets too much. She was buying huge chocolates and hiding them in various places around the house. She went through her daughters’ school bags and their rooms looking for something sweet.

Francesca suffered from epilepsy and needed to avoid consuming too much sugar. Because elevated blood sugar levels could trigger epilepsy attacks. So this sweet tooth worried Mark.

One day, as husband and wife were shopping together, they went into a café for coffee. Francesca wanted to add a slice of cake to her coffee. When Mark objected a little harshly, they began to argue. They got so loud that the cashier asked Francesca, “Are you all right? Do you want me to call security?”


Mark couldn’t understand what was happening, he thought Francesca was depressed and was eating sugary foods to make herself happy. It wasn’t until much later that he understood why she was behaving this way. A neuropsychologist would explain to Mark that Francesca’s brain uses a huge amount of energy to function properly, which is why she needed the sudden burst of energy that sugar consumption creates.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mark said, “He still hasn’t changed. He doesn’t want to finish his meals or eat protein-rich foods. It’s also very difficult to keep him from drinking and dehydrating his body. But he still craves sugar all the time. He can’t go shopping on his own anymore, he doesn’t have debit cards. But when we go shopping together, when we get to the checkout, I see him cramming cakes and biscuits into the basket. I have to return them all.”


Mark and Francesca met in Jakarta in 1997. At the time, Mark was working in a bank and Francesca was teaching in an English school. Francesca was a beautiful woman who was very good with people, especially children. Mark fell in love with Francesca as soon as he saw her.

They had a lot in common. They both wanted to see the world. Together they traveled all over Asia. When Mark was transferred to Singapore, Francesca transferred to a school there. In 2001 they were married in England in a ceremony attended by family and friends. They then moved to Paris, where their children were born.

After the birth of their second daughter, Francesca began to experience strange attacks. For 30 seconds she would lose control of every muscle in her body, fall over, and then recover.

Many factors, from blood pressure to iron deficiency, were evaluated that could cause these attacks. Eventually it was discovered that Francesca was suffering from epilepsy attacks caused by a tumor growing in her brain.

The tumor was benign, but it was large and had spread. It would be too dangerous to operate. After consulting many doctors, the Winterfloods finally decided to postpone the operation until their children were older. Francesca had MRI scans every year and medication to keep her epilepsy under control.

Francesca was unable to return to her beloved profession due to health problems; she turned all her attention to her family and her children. She took care of everything and everyone in the house. As Mark was often away on business trips and spent very little time at home, Francesca took full responsibility for the children and the house.

'My wife suddenly started eating sweets all the time, it was years before we understood why' What was Francesca's illness? What other symptoms did she show?


The Winterfloods had moved back to the UK when Francesca’s sugar cravings began. But constant sugar cravings were not Francesca’s only behavioral change. Around this time, she began to sleep a lot. She didn’t look after herself or care about her appearance. Whereas she used to be a very good cook, she often heated up ready meals and put them on the table. Dirty laundry piled up like a mountain in the house.

“I think I would get angry and Francesca would get defensive. We had arguments from time to time, but she wouldn’t give any explanations.”

The couple’s older daughter had started boarding school in the sixth grade, but their younger daughter was still living with them and had a hard time seeing her mother in this state.

Francesca wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. She was not interested in anything. She kept repeating some annoying and vulgar phrases like “fat rabbit”. She talked to her adolescent child as if she were an adolescent herself. Unable to recognize her mother, the young girl refused to hug Francesca for a year.


The Winterfloods often saw their family doctor. Francesca also regularly saw specialists for her epilepsy and brain tumor. But no one raised the possibility of “dementia”. Francesca was not even diagnosed until March 2024.

At that point Francesca was unable to do things that involved multiple steps, such as making a cup of tea, taking a shower, or finding and dressing herself.

Mark didn’t know what to do. When he went to Alzheimer’s Society events, he talked to other family members and support workers, trying to find out what to do and what books to read. One of them asked Mark if Francesca had behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. When Mark put this question to Francesca’s doctor, he was told, “Yes, she has all the symptoms.”


The behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia usually leads to brain shrinkage, but not Francesca, 54. Rather, the damage to her brain is caused by a tumor.

“The important thing was to take this diagnosis and educate myself and learn that Francesca would not recover. No amount of brain surgery is going to repair the parts of her brain that are dead. It was horrible to learn that, but it helped. I realized we had to change our lives completely.”

It was around that time that Mark was laid off. After 25 years, he was sad to be unemployed, but the timing was perfect. “It’s much harder to take care of someone without losing your mind, to manage the depression of feeling ‘I’m not good enough’, to fight boredom,” said Mark, who emphasized that in the past he had been the most senior manager of a bank’s operations in two countries.


He added that he had to develop skills that he had never used until then:

“I do everything now – cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping… In the beginning it took me a while to learn and get into a routine. As a person who doesn’t even toast bread, I learned everything from scratch, including how to chop onions. Nowadays I hope my cooking is pretty good. I make weekly meal plans and sometimes I try to make something out of leftover ingredients. My kids call it ‘dad’s experimental cooking’.

I used to have to call my mother and ask her for the settings of the machine before doing the laundry. Now I have figured it out. I have also learned to reduce the need for ironing by hanging and folding properly. I have also tried to fill the gaps in our daughters’ lives. Our older daughter is at university and the younger one has just completed her high school graduation exams. They are very close to each other. They have many cousins and aunts and uncles. One of them is Francesca’s sister who is a doctor. But they lost their mother.”


Stating that Francesca knew she had dementia but did not react to it, Mark said, “The hardest thing for me was losing my comrade. We traveled together for years, our family and friends were not with us because we lived abroad. He is the one who knows everything, all my stories. I try to keep us both busy, we go to concerts and the theater. He sits quietly and responds but never starts a conversation. In the past he was the talkative one; sometimes he would talk too much. I would give anything for him to be like that again.”

Emphasizing that he is not making plans longer than 6 months now, Mark added: “There is no point in doing more because we don’t know what will happen. Francesca left her career, she took care of our daughters, she came wherever my job was. She took care of me for 25 years; I’ve only been doing this for 2 years. I owe it to her. We’re still together and I’m still very much in love.”

The Telegraph’ın “‘At 51, my wife began craving sugar – we had no idea it was dementia’”  compiled from his news article titled.


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