Yesterday I spent half an hour searching for something that was right under my nose. Go on admit it we all do so at times. By coincidence, I was listening to the radio at the time and heard a trail for an item in a programme to be aired the following day. “Should people with Alzheimer’s be tagged?”
Since I had no Post written for the day, I decided to use these events as inspiration for a short light hearted piece. The joke was on me and as you know, I am never behind the door at laughing at myself.
Some people replied in the spirit in which the piece was written, while others seemed to think I was being flippant about a serious illness.
Alas, I am well aware of the problems of the ageing mind, alzheimer’s & dementia.
I have helped in the care of family members, friends and neighbours, struggling with the everyday living in confusion and loss of time and place. Keeping someone safe, from themselves and from other outside dangers is a serious business, and that is how I deal with it, but there are times when the load can be lightened by laughter.
Long before we ever heard of the words alzheimer’s or dementia, my granny, succumbed to the latter. Yes, my dearly beloved granny that I constantly talk and write about, who taught us the blessing and wonder of laughter, slowly lost hours, then days and weeks to what we now call dementia.
We began to refer to her as ‘Mad Granny’ within our immediate family, but in our case the word ‘mad’ meant silly or funny. All through our lives she had played silly games and tricks on us, and laughed long and loud. We never left her company feeling downhearted sad or cross. It was impossible. So the slow walk into confusion became as natural as helping her on with her overcoat or handing her a walking stick to help steady her arthritic gait.
There were days when she thought I was my mother. At times if I queried a name of someone she was talking about, she would say “You remember her, she was in school with us!”. Nowadays you will often hear that phrase uttered by my siblings. One day, my mother walked to the window to draw the curtain, there on the ledge outside was a rolled bundle held together with a rubber band. A bundle of bank notes. She had collected her pension from the post office that day, and when mammy ask why it was out there on the ledge, Granny said it was to keep it hidden in case anyone came into her room and stole it! At that stage arrangements were made for mammy to take care of the pension and dole out small amounts of pocket money as needed, It was mammy after all who looked after her everyday needs. One of my Uncles took care of the major bills.
James and Maura lived near me, he was diagnosed with alzheimer’s, and Maura found it very difficult to accept. At time is seemed like she was forcing James to remember things and this only added to his frustration. Regularly Maura called for my help, and I found distraction worked well.
I would lead James to talking about music or the world of wood, the other love and area of his working life as a Joiner. Once calmed, I would return to whatever it was that Maura had wanted James to do, and like a lamb, he did as I asked. It was a sad situation. Their parents and brothers on both sides of the family had been victims of this disease and I could see the early stages in Maura too.
Then there was Amy, deaf as a door post, the hearing aid lived in a drawer beside the foil sealed strips of pills. Amy might remember to take a pill, but you would never know if she did or not. Half a dozen strips would have the foil and tablet removed from one space. The strips being marked with the days of the week never worked for Amy, since she could never find her glasses to read them.
On occasion I was called upon to accompany Amy to a doctor’s appointment. Her daughter was ill, so I would gen up on details the doctor needed to know about. The doctor spoke softly, and Amy would reply with something totally off the rails. It was sad I know, but it was pure comedy and difficult to hold a straight face. I would sit facing Amy and gently take her hands in mine and repeat the question the doctor had asked, in a slightly raised voice. She was used to the sound of my voice and sometimes I got through. I could have talked over her as I knew the answer already, but I needed to treat her with dignity. Between the three of us we worked it out, and Amy was looked after.
She eventually moved to a residential home where she suddenly took an interest in one of the male residents. She called him Walter, the name of her late husband and she spent hours bossing him about and telling him what to do! There were two sitting rooms, so after a week or so the staff made sure that Walter and Amy were never left sitting in the same one.
I could go on, but I think you have the idea.
At times it seems like my whole life was surrounded by illness and frailty, but then that is the reality of life for all of us at some stage. If laughter helps to get me through it, then it is way better than wailing and singing pity me songs.
Now did I tell you the one about……