Wednesday, 23 April 2008

dementia and racism

Mum was taken out to Lunch today by our Relatives (D&G). I phoned the Home a few times this morning to ensure that Mum had been bathed and had her hair done in the on-site salon, because I knew she'd feel happier if they caught her looking her best. D told me later that the visit was a good one and that Mum looked very well.

Apparently Mum referred to the incident where she called me early on Monday morning. She said "I upset Greg." Now, I didn't get angry with her at the time and certainly not the next time we spoke, so I was a bit embarrassed, but maybe she'll actually remember the lesson if that's the story she tells herself.

Mum's new embellishment to the story, however, disturbs me.

To back-track slightly: when Mum called me at 4:45am her tone was definitely cheerful, as if she was calling me at a normal time. After I had pointed out the inappropriate hour for the 4th or 5th time, however, Mum searched around for an alternative explanation for why she had rung and told me that she was frightened and had called because she could hear people in the hallway coming towards her room (we'd been talking a few minutes by this point). I told her that they would be staff coming to see why she wasn't in bed and that I knew this hadn't been her real motive (it's pointless to argue with someone with short-term memory problems, but sometimes I just DO). Anyway, I told her to open her door and, sure enough, I could hear a staff member asking her if she was alright.

Okay, so today her story was that she'd upset me by calling early, but that she'd only called because she was so frightened by (and this I find shocking) "Negroes coming into my room".

I have never heard my Mum use racist language or ever condone any such language used by anyone around her. I've never heard her use that term. The idea that she would even choose to mention the skin colour of the staff member totally dumbfounds and alarms me. My Mother has mixed with people of many different nations and ethnicities in her life - she lived in Pakistan, in Japan, in India and travelled extensively throughout my Dad's career, taking in every continent. I don't recall her ever being frightened by a skin colour. All I can imagine is that she reverted to some pre-1950s attitude - maybe the sort of language she heard her own parents use.

I haven't got some cute way of ending this entry. I'm speechless.


Tilly said...

At the Christmas panto, LGP pointed and laughed at a Downs' syndrome couple who were sitting in front of us. I was mortified. How do you deal with something that is so repugnant? Luckily, the noise drowned out injudicious and hurtful comment - I was completely taken aback and just looked away - and that stopped the whispering. I rather suspect that as your mum has never shown any indication of xenophobia or anything similar - and in fact, that her experience is quite the opposite - she has travelled extensively and enjoyed it? - her term of "Negroes" wasn't in slightest bit meant to be disparaging but simply factual as she probably couldn't remember the carer's name - and as you suggest, a term that was current and perfectly PC in your Mum's childhood days. My Mum says "Bugger" sometimes - and she never EVER swore before! (not to my knowledge) and takes great delight in burping very loudly. My children think it's brilliant..As with so much, I completely sympathise & understand why you can't help being shocked. But don't worry - I'm sure there was no malice in your Mum's comment and the carers will understand that, just as they understand flashes of aggression, kleptomania etc in others. Somewhere, despite the strokes and the complex pathology, your Mum is still the lady whom you have always known and loved. (If a little quirky at times!) I'm afraid we just have to grin and bear it,& do damage limitation where necessary. Thankfully it's probably our problem, not theirs! Tilly x

Greg said...

Thank you, Tilly. Yes, of course, living in the 'noughties' we're very sensitive to certain epithets and wouldn't use such a word, while Mum is living in an earlier era in her mind. I don't get a sense of malice from her about anyone. It was the expression of fear linked to the Carer's ethnicity that surprised me. I'm tickled by the notion of your Mother amusing her grandchildren with her burping. I suppose, in the days before television, family entertainment came in the form of a piano (if you were lucky) and watching to see what Grandma did today...


Sorata said...

I have to agree with Tilly here. Your mother probably just have too much emotions at the moment (and trying to make up an reason) so she just decide to use a term she "remembered" at that moment.

If you're concern though, you might just want to mention that to the caretaker, so they know what to expect incase she use the word again, though I doubt she will.

pablo said...

I'm exploring and reading thru your posts. In each post I find something that was exactly what my mother-in-law did. I know this post is months out, but I wanted to post (to show my support) anyway.

This story reminds me of a time my M-I-L caught me off guard. We walked into her room (after taking her out for a stroll) & she blurted " what the h*ll is that f*cking 'negro' doing in my room!"

This was the first time ever I've heard her curse (not the last though) and use the 'negro' word. She was always proper, quiet & loving of all people, races & colors.

The caretaker was not at all offended. She just laughed it off saying "this happens a lot w/dementia patients."

Some how their mind goes searching for some feelings or thoughts and pulls out what shows up. It is words they would normally never expressed. It is not who she is (or would have allowed herself to be) that showed up. It is just a thought (a memory) she had that came out.

By the way, love reading your blog - though sometimes it brings up these memories. It is good though! It is time for me to complete that past & your posts allow me to experience that again - but w/o the old pain this time.

Greg said...

Thank you, Pablo.

It's very helpful to hear that you've had a similar experience. It's good to know that this "happens a lot" and I am reassured by your psychological explanation.

I'm so pleased that reading my experiences with Mum is proving helpful for you. I have been hoping that my posts would help someone all along. Writing them helps me deal with some frightening or sad events, of course, but I've always hoped that they would provide fellowship or understanding for someone else.

Thank you for your insight and support


Nancy Jhon said...

Let me briefly tell you that there are multiple forms of dementia - alzheimer’s disease being the most common one that accounts for 40 to 75% of dementia cases and is the sixth leading cause of death in United States. Additionally, dementia and its types have common signs with some variations. Let’s start with the most common signs of dementia most commonly seen in patients at the early stages of the disease. They start experiencing subtle memory loss, mood instability such as immediate occurrences of maniac (laugh) and depression (sadness) episodes, and have trouble with listening and explaining things to other people, communicational obstructions to be exact. They also segregate their selves from social gatherings and unions, face difficulty in performing daily chores and also experience muscle impairment. Additionally, some people fail to converse with other people because they fail to keep up the pace and comparatively take longer to process the coming words and repeat the same question over and over again. Most of the cases showed that, dementia patients start segregating their selves and start living alone because they could not keep up with the lives of normal people. They just are not up for the adaptation to change. In one of the form of dementia, which is Lewy Body dementia, probable signs appear to be sleeplessness. Patients experience insomnia which leads to mood swings. It has been seen that they fail to keep tracks of roads and lose their tracking skills as well. In case of Alzheimer’s, a patient the most common signs are memory loss and forgetfulness. In some cases, it has been observed that people with Alzheimer’s segregate their selves from others. Additionally, they experience complete memory loss and trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, lack the judgement skill and a complete withdrawal from work or social activities. One most commonly observed is the forgetfulness and inability to retrace steps. There is another type of dementia called Parkinson’s characterized as uncontrollable movement of body parts such a shaking limbs and fingers. It has been observed that patients experience writing and speech changes, their ability to respond fails badly and they lose posture and balance. One of the common sign is bradykinesia characterized as slow body movement. One thing to keep in mind before labelling someone as a dementia patient is that forgetfulness and memory loss do no really mean a person has dementia because memory loss and forgetfulness are a normal parts of aging. But if any severity has been observed in these signs, a patient definitely requires a professional advice and consultation. There is no cookie approach to cure dementia but if you observe such changings or signs in your loved ones do not take it for granted before it gets too late.
Reference: What IS Dementia?