Living With Dementia – Friday 23rd September
All the names of staff and residents at the care home described in this this blog have been changed to protect their identity.
I arrive at the care home today just as lunch is being served. I hadn’t visited mum yesterday so I was glad to arrive at this time. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and sometimes the food in the care home is really good. For obvious reasons it has to meet certain nutritional standards, but think about trying to feed dozens of frail and elderly people spread over three floors in a care home, it must be really difficult to meet all the different needs?
The staff at the care home appear to be so caring and they always offer me a plate of whatever is being served up. My being there means I can feed mum, which means they have an extra pair of hands to look after some of the other residents. Sometimes feeding mum is a bit like playing a game; sometimes it’s a bit of a battle, although I never really take part in battles any more so it’s more resignation on my part. Sometimes mum eats, sometimes she doesn’t. As far as I am concerned she can do whatever the hell she wants. It’s not like I am dealing with a small child here; a small vulnerable mammal at the beginning of their life requiring nutrition and sustenance to form and grow. Mum made her feelings perfectly clear years ago about how she wanted to be treated when she got near the end. “just take me out and shoot me” she would repeat over and over again. She spoke at length about going to Switzerland to end her life. I used to joke about how we could end her life and wrap her funeral into one by going out and buying a giant suitcase, packing her into it and throwing her off a cliff into the ocean below.
“Burial at sea mum, can’t beat it” I would say to her, usually in front of concerned family members, staff at Alzheimer Scotland, the local priest or complete strangers for maximum effect. We would laugh but she never fancied it, she really didn’t like the idea of being eaten by fish. Then there was her consistent worry that she might not actually be dead, which is the same reason she never fancied being cremated. I think she must have seen Diamonds Are Forever at some point, in fact, I know she did as I reckon my dad took her to see it at the cinema for one of their wedding anniversaries. Other romantic films my dad took mum to see at the cinema include The Great Escape, The Guns Of Navarone, and The Dirty Dozen. The last of the great romantics my dad, it really is mind-boggling how they stayed married as long as they did. Mum used to regale people with a story about one Christmas not long after they were married when she was expecting a fur coat as a gift. My dad had alluded to buying her something to keep her warm in winter. She had wanted a fur coat for years, don’t judge, it was the sixties. Anyway, she got an electric blanket. Dad worked for the electric company in the warehouse at the time, he probably never even paid for it.
So back to lunch today and I ask Denise about mum as she is pretty unresponsive; just sitting at one of the long tables alongside some of the other residents, staring straight down. This in itself isn’t unusual, however I can’t get her to respond to my voice, to respond to me touching her hand, and she isn’t blinking, which is unusual. Denise assures me mum had eaten well the day before, but isn’t in a great mood today and has declined to eat the soup they are offering. It is carrot flavour, I can’t really blame mum to be honest. I mean, just carrot? Eventually mum starts to give me one word answers and says she doesn’t fancy the soup today. Fine. I survey the day room; Bessie is sitting directly opposite mum and is getting stuck right into her soup, although every 2nd or 3rd mouthful is going directly on to the table top. Denise is feeding one of the ladies on the next table along, and the rest of the staff are either helping residents into chairs, carrying plates of food, or feeding residents who are unable to feed themselves. Sadie is sitting at the table behind us with some of the other residents and her loud, gravely, masculine voice is screaming for something every couple of minutes. I just can’t work out what she is saying today. Is it Georgie? Is it doggy? Every time she lets rip I feel the atmosphere in the room change as the residents visible recoil, some of them look bemused, some angry. Every now and then mum reacts to Sadie’s cries as if she is receiving an electric shock.
The food comes out and it is a choice of tuna pasta or scampi and chips. I have a quick look at the tuna pasta and opt for the scampi and chips for mum. When it comes I take her fork and cut the scampi into smaller pieces, then put a bit of either scampi, or chip onto her fork. I then place the fork in mum’s hand and tell her she has food on her fork and can lift it up to her mouth. Sometimes mum lifts the food without any problems. Sometimes, instead of lifting the fork to her mouth, she puts the fork down toward the floor. Sometimes she moves her entire body forward, maintaining the distance between the fork and her mouth. Sometimes, she stares into the distance. Sometimes, she looks at me and I can see nothing but confusion and frustration in her eyes. Sometimes, she does absolutely nothing at all.
“Doctor” Sadie is shouting.
“Can someone help me”……….