And then along came dementia

At the age of 80 she was 5’2” with eyes of blue, slim, elegant and full of energy still.  Well-dressed, well-spoken, perfectly kempt – all indicative of the wellness that had been a factor throughout her 80 years of life.  Like her brother before her, she had developed non-insulin dependent diabetes when she was about 70, but it was well-managed by her and by her doctor.  She ate a healthy diet, she loved walking, she didn’t have any vices – so the diabetes happened, rather than being caused by lifestyle choices.  She kept taking the tablets – the diabetes behaved itself.

If you ever wanted to phone her, you had to do it either before 9 in the morning or after 5 in the evening, because the intervening hours were all filled with ‘doing things’.  “Been out with the girls for a wander” – “It’s club day today, so we’re there all day for a lunch, a laugh and a natter” – “It’s market day today so we always go to stock up on a few bargains” – “We went Up West for a potter about”.  On it went, week in, week out.  Apart from Sundays.  “Oh no, we never go out on Sunday – that’s our day of rest!  We all do our housework on a Sunday.”

To celebrate her 80th  birthday, we went on holiday together.  She was up, showered and dressed by 8 o’clock every day, raring to go.  Breakfast over and off we went!  She walked the socks off us, she did!

We introduced her to digital photography which she found absolutely fascinating.  She may have said there were no flies on her Dad, but he’d be thrilled to know that there were no flies on his youngest daughter either, still at the age of 80 plus.  Once we gave her a few basic instructions on the camera, she was shooting like a professional.  Back at base, she soon took to adjusting her photographs on-screen, using a mouse like she’d had a mouse in her hand for years.

But, a few months later, in the Autumn of her 80th year, the alarm bells began to alert us to the fact that something was just not quite right.

“What are you having for dinner today?”

“Chicken”

“What a whole one?”

“Don’t be daft!  I bought two pieces of chicken.  I’ll cook both today, have one hot today and the other one cold tomorrow with salad.”

At first I just thought “clever move, what a good idea”, but when I got the same reply next time I phoned, and the next, I began to be a little suspicious.  Up to then, we’d never even had the slightest inkling that things might not be all they should be, so I suppose, in a way, I began to stick my nose in more often that I’d ever done before.   We started to make more frequent visits, and I’d have what she called a ‘snoop around’.  Just checking that things were still normal-looking, that the fridge had food in it, that the kitchen/bathroom/bedroom were all they had always been and that ….. ….

Yes, it was met with her usual wicked sense of humour and a wry smile, as she looked me in the eye and asked “are you checking up on me for some reason?”  But soon it became obvious that things were far from normal, and for the first time in her life she needed to call for help.  Or rather we, her family, needed to call for help on her behalf.

The two ‘rogues’ that I mentioned previously – in A life lived well before dementia – were her Great Great Grandfather, and his son, her Great Great Uncle.  Both pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey when accused of a warehouse break-in and larceny – back in the mid-1800s.  They had stolen property from ‘their master’, property that formed part of the tools of their trade, valued at a couple of £s only.  Perhaps they were planning to set up their own little enterprise!

The Old Bailey records show that the prosecutor had stated that the prisoners were father and son, and that “the elder prisoner”, who had been 23 years employed by him, had induced the younger one to assist in the robbery.  The elder prisoner – her Great Great Grandfather – was sentenced to 4 years’ penal servitude; the younger prisoner was sentenced to one month’s confinement followed by three years in a Reformatory.  A heavy price to pay for stealing a few £s’ worth of goods.  As far as I am aware, they are the only instances of wrong-doing in the whole of the family – right through to the present day.  They paid the price of the crime they committed, which is more than can be said for those who – by  their sins of omission – some 160 years later, committed their own crimes against a meek and mild 83 year old person in their care.

Charlie Chaplin, meek and mild,

Stole a sixpence from a child

When the child began to cry

Charlie Chaplin said goodbye

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Filed under dementia, growing older

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