26 Aug

The Lighter Side of Dementia

Further to the first blog by William Wood, we are pleased to be the first to post the next part to William Wood’s guest blog in association with Austin Macauley Publishers.

My ninety-year-old mother sat most of the day on a sofa dozing or reading and re-reading the same page of a newspaper or book. One day my wife admired an old, embroidered table cloth. Mother said, “Yes, I did it when I had more time.” For she was convinced she still ran the house, cooked all the meals as she once did and looked after us all.

In the early days of her dementia a psychiatrist came to assess her. She was clever at evading his questions.

“Do you know what day it is today?” he asked her.

“Why? Don’t you?” she replied. “Are you sure you have not come on the wrong day?”

“What day is it, then?” he persisted.

In exasperation Mother said, “If you really want to know look at today’s newspaper.”

When asked who the Prime Minister was she said, “If you can call her a Prime Minister!”

I am afraid the expert was out-witted. Mother was not play acting. When the psychiatrist had departed she concluded, “That man was not very bright, was he?”

On other occasions a different kind of logic took us by surprise. My sister-in-law popped in on her return from holiday. “I have just come back from Spain,” she said.

“You’ve been quick,” said Mother.

Like all of us when we get older she was always losing or misplacing things: her glasses, her bag, her watch. Once she lost her wallet full of money and credit cards. She had been out in his car with my brother. I telephoned to ask him to check the car and I asked which shops they had visited. I also asked him to search his house. All to no avail. I subsequently spent the day phoning to cancel credit cards but went to bed with the theft or loss unsolved.

Next day the subject of Mother’s wallet came up again. Mother wandered off and came back with her handbag. “Is this what you are looking for?” she asked, holding up her wallet.

Mother watched a lot of television but did not take a lot of it in. Her daily refrain was,

“Anything on the box tonight?”

“David Attenborough on the origins of life on earth.”

Mother looked amazed. “How does he know about that?”

“He was probably there,” I joked.

“He can’t have been,” said Mother. “He is younger than me and I don’t remember it.”

Memory is a strange thing and since both my parents had a different kind of dementia they both remembered or forgot in different ways. When it came to their Christmas card list all manner of confusion reigned.

Attention turned to Father’s relatives. He was the last survivor of six siblings. Only he and Pauline, the wife of his brother William were still alive. He picked up a card just received from this sister-in-law.

“Who is Pauline?” he asked with a baffled expression.

“Pauline,” said Mother, “she married Dick.”

“Dick who?”

“Your brother.”

“No, that was Peg,” Father corrected her.

“Aunt Pauline,” I say, “was married to Uncle William.”

Father looks at me in amazement. “So she was,” and after a pause. “Did she die?”

“Not unless she died after posting this card yesterday.”

“William’s dead,” says Mother. “What was his wife’s name?”

“Pauline,” I say.

“No, she was Dick’s wife.”

“No, Uncle Dick married Aunt Peg.”

“How do you know all this?” asks Mother, as astonished as when I occasionally get an answer right on University Challenge.

One side effect of dementia on Mother was that it seemed to suppress emotions such as joy or grief. When my brother died we did not think that Mother had taken in that he had left us for ever. However, on stepping out of the church after his funeral she said to me,

“William, now that you are an only child I shall have to be careful not to spoil you.”

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