I had a good lesson on living in the moment today after taking my two daughters aged five and three to visit their great granny Lettie who has Alzheimer’s.
We had a lovely time, an hour or so of giggling and laughing and playing the same game of animal snap over and over again, as two minutes after we’d finished, they all seemed to forget we’d ever played and so would start all over again.
Time wasn’t important to them. According to my gran it was 2pm and she’d just enjoyed a lovely lunch. My five year old insisted her watch said seven minutes past fifteen, so what did it matter that mine said 10.30am?
I took a few photos and will send them to her as I know that despite hoping that she will at least remember something of our visit, the next time I talk to her, she will have forgotten and will ask why I never come to see her.
Sometimes you can’t help thinking what’s the point? Does it make a difference? Did it really even happen if she won’t remember? But when we are there, at that moment, she’s the mad, fun loving gran I grew up with and I’m sure that even if she can’t recall it, it must be with her somewhere inside.
But it’s not all laughs and giggles. I still find it hard to be honest and open about mental health. Physically my gran, in her 80s, was so fit and healthy, playing golf till her late 70s, walking several miles down the town to do her shopping, lapping the park. But gradually as her mind stopped keeping up her old friends started not to visit quite so often, then not at all. Even her local church said she couldn’t help out at coffee mornings anymore because of her “odd” behaviour and she became more and more isolated. Then when my mum started to get phone calls from the police as my proud, respectable gran had been caught shoplifting we realised something needed to be done.
She lived independently for a while. The manager at her local supermarket was brilliant. Recognising there was a problem, they showed understanding and called my mum who arranged to pay for the goods she’d taken. Others were not so. A security guard at one large high street store called the police after he caught her in action. We had to get her from the police station, where a sympathetic police officer agreed not press charges despite the security guard insisting it was not dementia she was a “crafty old woman.” How I wished this was true.
And then there was the “cold callers”. Checking her bank statements mum found she was paying out three monthly insurance premiums for sky, even though she didn’t have it. A salesman persuaded her to pay for metal security shutters on her house and we once found her kitchen full of mounds of fish she’d bought from a passing salesman who must have known she could never have got through all that on her own.
Eventually, it was decided she needed to go into a nursing home. In some ways she is happier, she sees people every day, and she is well cared for by the staff and there are activities and trips. But at other times she gets angry and frustrated and she cries and cries. For a long time she packed every single morning, including taking her picture frames off the wall, and waiting for my mum to come and take her home. My mum then had to go through the emotions of explaining the whole thing to her over again, day after day after day.
Every day I feel guilty, that I should be doing more to look after her, should visit more. Then I worry that our visits upset her, as it seems to trigger memories of what life used to be like.
Then there’s the impatience that creeps in, as you have to answer the same question over and over again. Or when you feel tempted to correct her and try and get her to remember what actually happened.
So my Dementia awareness week pledge is that when we visit, I am just going to try to be more like my children. I will try to forget about concepts of time, the past, the future, of truth and make-believe and just exist in the moment and enjoy our time together while we can.