This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
However if you are very old it is not welcomed quite so readily. Yesterday I went to see my mother who has the early signs of Alzheimer’s. She was sitting in her favourite chair in quite a state as she had decided not to take the offer of a lift to church and walk instead as it was such a beautiful day. I suppose this wouldn’t have been so bad if she had dressed accordingly but she had on a long winter cardigan, tweed skirt and other inappropriate clothing! She was also upset as she realises that, in her own words, she is going potty. I try to reassure her that we all wear the wrong clothes from time to time as we get the weather wrong and anyway it was just as likely to change temperatures in the hour she was in church. As her world becomes smaller she seems to shrink in size before my eyes. Visitors are few and far between as she probably doesn’t remember their name and 10 minutes after they have been she has forgotten the visit and so I suppose they think there is not much point in going. I can understand all of this however she gets much pleasure from the visit at the time and for the carer, in this case me, it is an absolute blessing to know that others are visiting her. As I drive away it makes me so sad that she is so lonely locked into a brain that can only remember events of some 40 years ago. I wonder whether she would be better in a nursing home where there is some activity and constant company however, before she deteriorated, she was so adamant that she wanted to stay in her own home and not even move nearer to me where she said she did not know anyone or her way around. Soon she will not know where she is and so her location will be irrelevant however she is comfortable in her cottage, she knows the village and she has a young girl who comes in twice a day to look after her and so it works for the time being.
Sometimes I feel as if we are all just waiting for her to die as she has nothing to look forward to as her memory cannot retain any information. Her day is made up of sleeping, eating and going for short walks with her devoted dog who is her only loyal companion right now. She cannot read a book as she cannot retain the story, it is the same with television. Do you remember the sitcom ‘Waiting for God’? I remember it as being very amusing however there is little that is funny about being old. I may laugh about some of the things she does for example putting her sheets in the dustbin rather than the washing machine but the reality is it is humiliating for her and is so sad to see someone who was so capable reduced to the ability of a small child without all the endearing qualities.
So whilst cold weather is not the friend of the elderly nor is the very hot weather and if you have an elderly member of the family or a friend or neighbour who has any form of dementia do give them a visit as whilst you think they may not know or care, we cannot know this for certain but what I do know, as a carer myself, is that it brings joy to the carer to know that for 30 minutes of any day the person they look after is being entertained.
Terry Pratchett recently wrote an article for The Guardian which, as a sufferer of dementia and being a very successful author, was written with extreme poignancy and thought and is worth reading. There has also been a very captivating and memorable TV campaign which I hope will resonate with many as for too long this disease has been sidelined and hopefully it will break down the stigma that it carries. Remember one in three of us will suffer from this debilitating disease at some point in our lives and when you watch the video you will see that in some cases it is not limited just to the very old!