Living With Dementia – Tuesday 20th September
I try to get in to visit mum as early as possible these days as a lot of the time she can be quite spaced out and unresponsive, although saying that it’s a false economy because, as happened on Sunday, sometimes I am in for five minutes and it’s obvious she just wants to switch off and sleep. I am pretty sure some of the time this is because she has no idea who this weird bald guy is who comes to visit and she just wants away from me and my stupid shit. I mean, if you didn’t know who I was and I came to see you and started droning on about dog’s called Kermit and working in Falkirk and my wife buying dresses and Celtic football club and on and on and on, you would want away from me as well. A few weeks ago one of the guys who attends the community rehab and counselling service I work for said he was really enjoying being in a foul mood and I bounded in to the office and enthusiastically greeted him and asked him how he felt while extolling the virtues of my own good mood. I ruined it for him you see. Like a big happy St Bernard licking his frown away. A few of my ex-girlfriends referred to my being like a big daft puppy, but that was back in the days before dementia. I was a lot happier then, ignorance is bliss. I should qualify that last statement by saying I was also a lot unhappier then. Substance misuse and addiction can do that to a person. Crushing highs and ecstatic lows, sometimes experienced within the length of a sentence or a well placed phrase. For me, addiction lacked consistency, even down to the make up of my excretions. This is something I could share with mum now. If only she could concentrate for 30 seconds and construct a meaningful sentence we could talk about our useless shit(s), but the structure and content are now beyond her capabilities most of the time.
It’s one of the seemingly endless misconceptions some people hold in relation to Alzheimer’s you see. If only this was a condition of the memory which affects old people. Alzheimer’s is a condition which affects the brain, period. Age doesn’t come into it. Mum was 57 when she noticed issues with her memory and concentration. She is now 67 and cannot walk properly, cannot speak properly, cannot hold things, cannot brush her teeth, cannot dress herself, cannot go to the toilet unaided, cannot watch television, cannot like things she has always liked, cannot sing along to things she has always sang along with, and yes, cannot remember anything. She is blissfully unaware of most of these things, which is a mercy I suppose. I once thought Alzheimer’s was a memory disease, and dementia was a form of older person madness. The past 9 years have been an education I could have done without and I am still learning new, hard lessons everyday. Sometimes there is peace, sometimes there is a glimmer, a hint of mum that spills out of her being, some rogue signals spark through the placques spreading all over and throughout her brain. The odd electronic escapee overcoming the dreaded placques steadfastly preventing the life giving neuro-transmissions which make her function and be who she is. Her essence appears in a flash like an almost dud battery in an old remote control; providing just a spark of life before slipping back to dormant redundancy.
Today I brought a Beatles CD in to the care home for us to listen to. I put on Revolver and ‘Taxman’ kicks the cobwebs from her room. I look up and ask mum if she is ok as she looks distressed and she respond’s in one word “Cold”. I tell her I will get something warm for her to wear and she respond’s in her quiet, sad voice explaining she doesn’t have anything here (she moved in to the care home bank holiday weekend, May 2015 and has no idea any of her stuff is here). It then takes almost 2 minutes to get a cardigan on both arms and body (they don’t mention this is the dementia manuals – lack of co-ordination, inability to understand basic spacial awareness, utter confusion sparked by a cotton/polyester mix). When I have settled down on the floor in front of her (mum can’t hold her head up any more so stares at the floor constantly) Taxman has made way for Eleanor Rigby and I am questioning mum about the Beatles and enquiring which one was/is her favourite. For the briefest of seconds there is genuine life and she tells me there was only ever one. “Was it Paul?” I ask? Mum nod’s in response and I tell her I am surprised, I always had her pegged as a Ringo woman. She smiles and as I ask her who aunty Vina’s favourite was/is I am aware her eyes are closed and she is drifting off to sleep. Our time is up for today. I settle back down and open up my laptop to write about what happened and I listen to the rest of Revolver. I seldom listen to The Beatles and I am enjoying spending the time here. I notice my bum is going numb because of the way I am sitting and I wonder about aunty Vina’s favourite Beatle. I bet it’s Paul. My uncle James had some mop top when they married, I am on safe ground here I reckon, definitely Paul.