Getting in the Ring with Dementia

April 2, 2009 at 5:59 am (Uncategorized)

The sun has finally come out today for the first time all week. The rain has been torrential and the swell huge. Beaches all up the coast have been hammered by massive surf all week – pretty spectacular stuff when it’s happening right out your front door. As you know, I love sunshine and blue skies, my whole being responds to perky weather, but this week’s been one of those times when a bit of inclemency is actually welcome. It’s all been so blustery and dramatic, the white foamy stampede of ghost horses galloping toward shore so very fierce and fine, that I’ve quite enjoyed myself. I’ve leaned into the wind, I’ve been saturated in night rain, and I’ve stood watching towering waves pound the sand. It’s impossible not to be impressed when nature decides to put on such a show.

In other news, the full ream of paperwork required to get Nana on the waiting list at St Andrews went in an express envelope overnight. Everything that needed certifying has been certified, everything copied in duplicate and triplicate duly doubled and tripled, everything signed and waived, signed and waived. My desk is swimming with paperwork – I can’t even look at it without experiencing a tidal wave of exhaustion, so right now I’m hiding out in my sunroom (s-h-h-h – it’ll never find me in here…) pretending it’s not there. Getting that application completed was like sitting a really confusing exam in a foreign language. And that’s just the first one. The really sickening thought is repeating this process until I’m satisfied she’s down on every waiting list going around town. Which means finding out about and visiting Sydney institutions, given we have no way of knowing how long it’ll be before anything becomes available at St Andrews (can you hear those angels singing and clouds parting? Or is that just me?). Yes, I’m soon going to be touring dementia-specific facilities across this fine city, and if that doesn’t throw up some fascinating and occasionally hilarious glimpses of humanity in all its open-backed gown glory, I will be amazed. It’s almost something to look forward to. Almost, but not quite. Meanwhile I’m heading over to Nana’s on Monday morning so the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) can get an updated picture of her rapidly diminishing capacity. That ought to be interesting; Nana wants to know who’s responsible for all the towers of books in her flat.

“Um, you are,” I said. “They’re yours.”

She gave a derisive snort, like there’s no way I’m going to pull the wool over her eyes this time. 

“Oh I don’t think so,” she said tartly. “Someone’s been in here while I’ve been away and left all these books here.”

“Nana,” I said, “you may not remember, but you went on quite a book-buying binge a little while ago. They’re your books. You were buying them from Vinnie’s every day. I tried to get rid of them while you were away, but I couldn’t get into the flat. I didn’t have the security key.”

“Well,” she sniffed, “I must be losing my mind. I don’t see how that’s possible; I’d remember something like this, there’s books everywhere, and I’m quite sure I’ve never seen them before.”

It was at that point I abandoned the truth. Because there’s really nothing to say, except that we’ll pick up the books and take them away as soon as we can. Anything else is just a constant battle, her version of reality VS mine, and if ever there was an exercise in utter futility, it’s trying to win a round in a title fight like that. Best to concede defeat, and let the world of dementia carry the day.



  1. Grad said,

    Oh, Lord. I feel for you. We’ve been watching my Mom (Shorty) for awhile. Her doctor sees some early signs of confusion (like the day she called the doctor to ask for directions to her office – it’s right up the road and she’s been going there for years.) Not a good sign. Then there was the $3,000 vacuum I discovered she bought from a door to door salesman (the company took it back after I raised Cain) to go along with the other two vacuums she aleady has (safety in numbers, maybe?). Lately she’s been doing much better. In Shorty’s case, it might have been a symptom of another medication she was taking. Anyway, hang in there.

  2. doctordi said,

    I love that you call your mum Shorty. This hoarding thing is fascinating – three vacuums?! I can’t help imagining them all whispering and giggling together in the dark closet under the stairs, like children playing hide and seek…

    SO glad – for you, for her – that it may only be meds; that’s a bullet dodged, trust me.

  3. doctordi said,

    And can you really buy a $3,000 vacuum? They’re out there? Wow. In Australia we buy cars with that kind of cash.

  4. Grad said,

    Yup…$3,000. When I called the sales guy he said, “Oh, but it’s the world’s best vacuum.” I replied, “For $3,000 it had better be able to fly as well.” In Georgia we have a “buyers remorse” statute for anyone over 65 – they can cancel any contract within 12 months. Yeah, my daughter, Kit , named my Mom Shorty because she’s only 5 feet tall and could shop in the kids department. The name stuck. Oh, how funny about the partying vacuums!

  5. doctordi said,

    For 3,000 bucks, someone else is coming to my house and doing the vacuuming for me.

  6. litlove said,

    Oh my I hate official forms. My husband and I have both had the experience of scrutinising them for their meaning thinking: But I’m a college graduate! How do other people even begin on these?

    And have you ever read the work of Milton Erickson? He was a pioneering psychotherapist who cured patients by staying within the bounds of their fantasy. Not that I’m suggesting for a second that you can cure your nana, but that you might manage her better by going along with the madness. Here’s a story you might like: Erickson is called to a mental hospital to treat a young schizophrenic who refuses absolutely to do his share of practical jobs. Instead he spends his days wandering around the grounds, dressed in only a sheet, claiming to be Jesus and trying to convert the nursing staff. Milton Erickson arrives at the hospital and finds the young man preaching in the gardens. He goes up to him and says ‘I believe you have experience as a carpenter?’ The young man consents and Erickson sets him to work instantly on a bookcase-building project. Sorted.

  7. Grad said,

    Oh, Litlove – what a lovely story. Erickson was obviously one hell of a psychotherapist.

  8. litlove said,

    Grad – he’s fab. He suffered from polio as a child and was told he would never walk again. We’ll see about that, says the young Milton and sets to work learning how to control each and every muscle with his mind. He ended up fully cured. That’s only the start of his story!

  9. doctordi said,

    No, Litlove, I haven’t, but it’s a great story, and I can see the benefits of just going along for the ride. For a start, it’s much less confronting and frightening for Nana if no one contradicts her version of reality. I think it must be enormously threatening being told things that contradict your own basic sense of yourself in the world. As she said, wouldn’t she remember filling her flat with towers of books? Well, as it turns out, no, but how scary would that be??? Erickson sounds pretty switched on to that terror.

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