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Ah, the joys of dementia

I don’t know the average age of my dwindling band of readers. But I suspect many will have a relative who has or will soon get some degree of dementia.

If so, here are just a few of the delights they can look forward to:

Grasping Granny Syndrome

I’ve written before about what I’ve named “Grasping Granny/Grandad Syndrome”. As part of their dementia, an elderly person becomes obsessed with money and starts believing that everyone close to them is trying to steal their cash. My mother keeps checking her bank statements obsessively to discover if we are plundering her bank account (we’re not) and has even fired a long-serving, honest cleaner for supposedly stealing some handkerchiefs (which my mother had actually mislaid).

Over-trusting outsiders

As the dementia sufferer becomes ever more suspicious of those close to them, conversely and oddly they seem to become ever more trusting of outsiders. This creates wonderful opportunities for people selling investments, mobility scooters, new windows, stairlifts or whatever to flog garbage and hideously over-price their products. It also allows outsiders, such as carers, to ease out the family and insert themselves into the elderly person’s will.

In my mother’s case, the woman caretaker of the block of flats where my mother lived launched an aggressive campaign to discredit us children for supposedly ‘not doing enough to look after our mother’, to isolate my mother from us and to have herself and her disabled brother named in my mother’s will instead of us. This campaign included constantly badmouthing us and very forcefully telling my wife – a qualified geriatric carer who had been looking after my mother 3 days a week – not to come and visit my mother any more as she, the caretaker, would supply the support my mother needed.

I don’t know if the caretaker has succeeded. But I do know she will be disappointed whatever the will says – the £700,000 London flat where my mother lived wasn’t owned by my mother. It belonged to the family of her second husband and was only available for my mother to use as long as she wanted. My mother has now left it and it is being sold with none of the proceeds going to my mother.

You’ve ruined my life

At some stage you may have to move a dementia sufferer from their home in order to get them into a safer environment or bring them closer to family to provide care and support. We had to move my mother out of London and closer to my sister so we could put in a support network of 3 carers, my sister and myself. Since then my mother has complained that we have ruined her life because she supposedly had a wonderfully active social life in London with loads of friends (absolutely not true), lots of activities (absolutely not true) and she is now lonely, friendless and bored in her new home when she actually gets out a lot more and visits restaurants and the theatre much more than she did when in London.

No conversation

As the dementia sufferer becomes ever more isolated because they are unable to maintain a proper social life, they lose the ability to converse as they have nothing new to say and no new experiences to talk about or else they’ve forgotten what they’ve been up to – which restaurants they’ve visited, which theatre plays they’ve seen etc – and so can’t talk about these. Many times people in the block of flats where my mother now lives have tried to start a conversation with her. But she just gets bewildered not knowing what to say. Then myself or my sister or whoever is with her has to jump in to keep the conversation from dying which makes my mother feel even more confused and excluded.

Nothing works

As the dementia sufferer becomes ever more crazy, they start creating problems for themselves. These might include putting tea bags in electric kettles – a good way to destroy an electric kettle; pouring boiling water into the jar of coffee rather than the coffee cup then complaining they’ve run out of coffee; switching off the central heating and then ringing in the middle of the night to claim the heating doesn’t work; pressing the wrong buttons on the radio and then complaining the radio doesn’t work; not pointing the TV remote control at the TV then complaining the TV is broken as they can’t change channels; not putting the phone back in place after a call forcing someone to go round and sort that out. What you never know is how many of these are genuine dementia-caused mistakes and how many are deliberate in order to attract attention and make the dementia sufferer the centre of attention.

Yup, if you know someone whose body has decided to live a lot longer than their brain, then you’re in for possibly years of such ‘entertainment’

5 comments to Ah, the joys of dementia

  • John Fields

    I am ninety in a few weeks, and a couple of friends
    have lost their mental capacity. It is an insidious disease for the person, relatives and friends.
    There is also a lot of aggression.
    Mr Craig could you explain “dwindling band of readers”.

  • Stillreading

    Firstly, I think you can be confident that your readership is far larger than is indicated by the relatively small number of daily posted comments. The majority of your readers, whilst probably endorsing your views, choose to keep their peace rather than invite possible reprisal from those seeking to destroy traditional UK society.
    During my years working as a health professional, whilst concurrently trying to be a good daughter to my widower father, who was suffering from increasingly severe vascular dementia, I witnessed or was directly involved in all the scenarios you describe, plus a few more. Placing a heap of washing on the gas hob, then lighting the gas under it; turning off the fridge because “it cost too much to run” then eating rotten food and making himself ill as a consequence; wandering into a well-known (though now deservedly bankrupt) High Street electrical appliances store and writing out a cheque for over a thousand pounds for a gigantic TV, plus 10 year extended warranty, then asking me where his money had gone and why was there an enormous TV preventing him closing his living room door? (This latter I only managed to sort out by visiting that same store the following Saturday afternoon, a time of maximal attendance by prospective customers, and raising my voice persistently on the topic of ripping off an old man who was at deaths’ door until, to shut me up and get me off the premises, they gave my father a refund and arranged for collection of the offending TV!) In my professional role I listened to demented geriatrics vilifying their loving sons and daughters, whilst heaping praise – and frequently actual cash – on some grasping self-styled “carer”, not infrequently a poorly-educated inadequate who, having made a financial mess of her own life, was seeking to manipulate the situation to her own advantage. I have seen those same demented geriatrics lash out physically at the adult offspring who were doing no more than gently remonstrate against dangerously irrational behaviour. And of course, any attempt by those offspring physically to restrain the elderly parent in the interests of safety swiftly leads to allegations by professional do-gooders of abuse.
    It seemed to me then and still does that those self-styled “caring”, often leftie-inclined, professionals (social workers, quite a few NHS nurses and agency workers), priding themselves as so many do on their “compassion”, should spare a great deal more of that same compassion for their demented patients’ relatives or partners, who face not only the years of exhausting physical demands 24/7 of caring for someone whose mind is disintegrating, but who are also dealing with the emotional distress of witnessing a beloved partner or a loved and respected parent slipping away until only the outward shell, a pathetic remnant of the erstwhile reality, remains. Family carers, in my view, merit far more consideration and compassion from NHS and Social Services staff than they currently receive. Only too frequently they are ignored or are subject to actual opprobrium. As the age of physical survival in our medically advanced society continues to increase, and every hospital or emergency patient is automatically subject to vigorous resuscitation attempts unless prior instruction forbidding this is in place, the incidence of mental incapacity and the requirement for support for families and spouses of those with dementia will continue to grow.

  • David Brown

    slightly off topic but connected

    http://www.potugalresident.com/portuguese-grandmother-jailed-by-secret-british-courts-has-“done-nothing-wrong”says-ex”.

    This was the case of the 71 year old women whose 80 year old brother in early stages of dementia was in Portuguess care home where he was contented. Devon Council conspired to try and keep their twisted actions out of the press.

  • Chris

    I, like you and many others recognise the situation where an aged relative gradually morphs into a new and often unpleasant person. With my mother’s death just before Christmas I ended three years of increasingly aggressive and latterly bewildered behaviour. There were many good people in the care services and NHS but after 20 of so hospital stays (for up to 6 weeks) one has to wonder if the care system, as it exists, is appropriate. Many time before she went into a care home my mother was vistied by mental health doctors, nurses, community matrons etc and there were numerous visits to outpatients to check sight, hearing,memory, walking, and so on. Each was followed by a letter giving vague advice but no help. These futile visits and checks added absolutely nothing to my mother’s predicament. Also, there were frequent falls and hospital visits. On at least half of the occasions my mum was seriously ill with infections and had massive doses of strong antibiotics before being sent home or latterly to the care home. This was nothing less than cruel. My mum was so confused in the end she had no idea what was happening. In the end we managed to get her GP to agree that whatever the infection it would be treated in the care home and if it was insufficient then so be it. Last November an infection was fatal. But she died at peace in her own bed, and not on a drip, not woken up by incessant shouting on a hospital ward, not being given meals which were mostly inappropriate curries for example),not having blood samples taken every day, not having to try to deal with new faces, nurses or ward assistants 4 times a day. Dignity seemed to be in pretty low regard.

  • moqi

    You have my sympathies – my mother was eventually rehomed in a suitable Care Home, but not before increasing my and my sisters stress levels to unimaginable heights. She objected violently to the idea of moving to this home, but was happy as a pig in shit once she moved in.

    However dealing with Suffolk County Councils finance department regarding the financing of the the care home costs proved a rather more intractable problem.

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