Sunday 24 February 2008


I'm in Mum's room, sitting in a chair in the window alcove, looking out over the garden. We're going out to have lunch in 10 minutes or so. Mum, being Mum, needs the toilet first. She decides against using her own bathroom, and says that she'll use the toilet down the hallway.

A couple of minutes later, I hear one of the staff members directing her, as she has evidently lost her way and doesn't know her way to the bathroom, though she's been living here for 2 months now.

A few minutes later, I hear the astonished exclamatory noises that Mum is prone to making on entering a room, only I can tell she's at the other end of the corridor and has obviously walked down to the lounge. I hear the same staff member gently reminding Mum that her Son is visiting her and is waiting in her bedroom. Mum sounds genuinely surprised.

Last year, little things like this would have worried the hell out of me. Now, I just feel a wisp of sadness pass over me and then I feel relieved that Mum is being cared for here.

Sunday 17 February 2008


There's a dog on my street with dementia.

A few times recently, I've arrived home to find this dog loping up the driveway from my garden out back. She gives me a baleful look as she passes me and then trots into the next driveway. Moments later she emerges in the driveway of the house beyond. This dog has forgotten where she lives.

The first time this happened, I caught up with her and read her tag and rang her owner. She lives about 20 houses down the street and has an infant who takes up all her attention. Apparently this dog is old and just doesn't recognise her home any more. This isn't just a stray - you can tell as soon as you see her. There's a look of dull panic in her eyes that I've seen in Mum's on occasion. This dog keeps in motion because she knows that something isn't right. There's a robotic quality to her relentless search for something she has forgotten. The normal doggy responses are missing: stop her and she stands unresponsive as you pet her, waiting to resume her search. Walk with her up the street and she tries every driveway along the way unless encouraged onwards. Her own home is greeted with no more enthusiasm than any other.

Meeting her again this week felt like a nudge from the universe.

Saturday 9 February 2008

the savages

I just got back from seeing "The Savages". In my current exhausted state, I stumbled into the cinema having forgotten why this movie had stuck in my consciousness as something to look out for. I sat down thinking, "Well, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are always interesting."

Of course, within seconds I remembered that this was an unflinching look at dementia and caring. There was a LOT here that I recognised, both in the portrayal of the Father and in the conflicted behaviour of his children. I'm not sure what anyone who hasn't gone through this would get out of watching the movie, but I could feel a lot of issues being externalised and I blushed at times. I've been Jon, unwilling to get drawn in but ultimately both responsible and realistic, and I've been Wendy, neurotic with guilt about what she's done. I wish I could say it was cathartic to watch, but at least there wasn't some Hollywood solution that I'd missed in the real world.

It is a wryly comic movie, though. And the characters grew (slightly) towards the end. There's hope for me yet... as long as Tamara Jenkins is writing and directing my life (oh wait... my writers went on strike years ago).

ADDENDUM: I ended up going out again for the late showing of "Juno", which cheered me up no end - this year's "Little Miss Sunshine".

Monday 4 February 2008


Mum is happy in the Home but there are now a couple of residents causing problems for her.

Firstly, there's the jealous old lady I've previously described - she is now, it seems, finding her way up the corridor to Mum's room and coming inside screaming at Mum. When Mum mimics this for me, baring her teeth and wobbling her jaw from side to side, it's very frightening because it makes her look truly demented. Trust me, that's not a look you ever want to see on a member of your family.

Secondly, to my surprise, the rather charming and solicitous gentleman of the household, who I've seen fending off Screaming Lady's attentions, has himself turned up in Mum's bedroom wearing only his underpants, prompting Mum to eject him vigorously. It turns out that he tells everyone that he owns the place. I suspect one of his relatives told him "this is your home now" and he took her literally.

Of course, my first reaction on hearing of these incidents was a strong urge to remove Mum and find her somewhere more genteel, but Mum insists that she doesn't want to be moved. My quandary is that Mum really needs looking after 24 hours per day in a place geared for dementia, but anywhere I found for her is bound to have residents like these (or worse).

When we got back from lunch, the gentleman's jacket was draped over Mum's dressing table chair. He'd been into her room again.

I have shown Mum that she can lock her bedroom door. What else can I do?


My visit this weekend reminded me how much I'd forgotten already. Maybe I ought to get one of those brain-scan thingamajigs for myself.

I had forgotten just how much organisation it takes to do the simplest thing when Mum's along for the ride, how each action needs to be broken down into tiny steps, and how I need to over-estimate the time required to perform each step by a factor of 1o.

I'd forgotten the shocking fact that I now have to be the one who has to choose what Mum wears, what she eats, have to teach her how to use a seat belt every time we get into the car (and out of it), have to steer her along the sweet aisle in the supermarket to the items I know are her favourites and stop her picking up every bag and bar on the way.

I'd forgotten that, months ago, the Social Worker told me that Mum wasn't really capable of communicating, that she was winging it, instead, by responding in generic phrases that sounded credible but didn't really add up. I miss conversation with Mum. What we have now is entirely driven by me: I say something and Mum gives an expected response which tells it back to me in hand-me-down phrases.

I realised something new this weekend. For ages, Mum has taken to reading things out to me (road signs, menus, anything on shelves in a store). At first I was irritated and would say, "Yes, Mum, I know you can read. You don't have to prove it to me." But now I understand that Mum's choice has eroded away and she's only capable of reading out the options in the hope that I will make the decision for her. This was another symptom of her dementia all along.