Lawrence Franks was unable to cope with the worsening condition of wife Patricia, 86, but did not want to go against her wishes of not being placed in a care home.
Medical experts agreed Franks was suffering from an abnormality of the mind, brought on by stress, when he picked up the weapon and struck the back of his wife’s neck as she sat up in bed at their home in Gatley, Stockport, on the morning of July 8.
Manchester Crown Court heard the couple, who had no children, were “utterly devoted to each other” throughout their 62 years of marriage, and Franks was too proud to ask for outside assistance when his wife succumbed to the onset of dementia 10 years ago.
The defendant carried out numerous alterations to their home in a bid to maintain her quality of life, including building a conservatory at the back of their house to provide a view of the garden and converting their garage into a downstairs bedroom
The burden of looking after her became heavier though, the court was told, after Mrs Franks temporarily went into a care home for 16 days while he underwent surgery to a hernia caused by the physical demands of moving her around the house.
On her return, Mrs Franks’s mobility had worsened and her dementia had taken further hold as she appeared unable to recognise her husband.
Vanessa Thomson, defending, said Mrs Franks had worked in the NHS for 30 years as a pharmacy assistant and had found the experiences of elderly people in the care system were “not positive”.
Her desire to not to go in a care home was such that as she became more confused she feared her husband was taking her to a home to be abandoned when actually they were going on a caravan holiday, she said.
She said: “She told him [Franks] never to put her in a care home. He knew he could no longer give her the adequate care she needed, but he also knew he could not put her in a care home where he felt she would be left to rot.”
Franks - a former bus driver, lifeguard and sports centre manager - struck his wife several times and then smothered her before he dialled 999 to confess and also rang his niece to say he had put his wife “out of her misery”.
He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility after doctors ruled an “adjustment disorder” impaired his ability to make a rational judgment.
Sentencing him to two years in jail, suspended for the same period, the Recorder of Manchester Judge David Stockdale QC told Franks: “It is a most unusual case and a very sad case. Indeed many would say it is heartbreaking.
“You could not cope any longer and, as you saw it, you and she faced the inevitbal prospect of her removal into a care home. The very last thing either of you wanted to happen.
“This act was not planned, you acted on the spur of the moment and there was a genuine belief on your part that it was an act of mercy.”
He noted Franks’s remorse was “profound and genuine” and bore in mind the “extraordinary circumstances of the extreme personal stresses in which you took the action you did”.
The court heard that Mrs Franks’s nephew and niece, who were in court to support the defendant, bore the defendant no malice and only wished he had sought the help of family members or health professionals.
Franks, who spent 137 days on remand in custody, made no comment as he left court.
He will also have to undergo a 20-day rehabilitation activity course.