Dementia. The biggest thief on Earth.
It’s the hardest thing in the world when your beloved 83-year-old gran, who has lived independently since her husband died at the young age of 56 30 odd years ago, who was only 6 weeks ago running around Marks and Spencers in her Reeboks looking for bargains in the sales, is standing in front of you threatening you with a garden trowel in her hand telling you to fuck off or she’s going to fucking murder you because you don’t fucking care about her. And because she doesn’t remember how frail she is she collapses into your arms when her legs give way, and because she’s forgotten how to control herself, she urinates over herself and you and the floor. And then she cries like a baby, and you take her in your arms to comfort her and cry with her, and rub her back, and she tells you to stop rubbing her fucking back because she isn’t a fucking baby.
It’s been the most frighteningly fast decline I could ever imagine in my worst worries for what would become of her as she began to approach her elder years. 6 months ago when she was in hospital for a urine infection, she was taking the mickey out of the “old boys and girls” in her ward, referring to them as if they were older and dafter than her. She always saw herself as young, independent, intelligent, proud. She would say “If I end up like that auld dafty over there who doesnae know her arse frae her elbow, shoot me Sharon. I’d hate to be like that.”
That is the most painful part for us. She has become what we all fear the most. Not being in control of our own minds and bodies. There were some small signs, she started insisting we take her curtains up and down, she started moving furniture around for no reason, but nothing too unusual, just a bit odd. Then 5 weeks ago her flat looked as if she had been burgled and everything was everywhere, she started to lose concept of day and night, we’d get phone calls asking for us to bring sausages at 1am. Then it just all went fucking crazy.
She lost the art of conversation. She’d chat but it was all repetitive stuff. She was only worried about things that weren’t even happening. She insisted everything was broken. Kettle, microwave, cooker, washing machine, all broken and needed replacing. When we’d question any of this she would scream that we don’t believe her and we were all conspiring against her. The most heartbreaking night was when she said she barricaded herself in her bedroom because of the “dirty big brown fucking snake”. It had come in through the pipes of the washing machine, then shit in her sink and spent the night laughing at her and scaring her. She was so upset telling us, and obviously visibly disturbed. To her this actually happened.
One day she got so uncontrollably upset because she hadn’t been out, Dave and I took a chance and got her in the car for a short trip into town. I regretted it almost as soon as we got her into the car. Her legs were so very frail, but she was in such a state we thought we had to try to give her something to make her happy. We took her to her favourite market cafe where she wanted tea, an omelette, grated carrot and red onion. They are very good in there with elderly people, they give them exactly what they ask for, assist customers in and out with wheelchairs, and they never rush anybody. You don’t get that sort of personal touch in a regular eating place. She ate about three mouthfuls of her food, but she couldn’t cut it, or hold a knife, her teeth were falling out, she was spilling it, she kept demanding glasses of water, she was just not herself. But they didn’t mind, they didn’t mind at all, and to be honest if anybody did, I would have had something to say.
I took her to the toilet and she just couldn’t do anything for herself. I fought back the tears I so wanted to let out at just how poorly she had become and helped my gran so that she left there clean and dignified. It wasn’t easy in a small cubicle. After two hours of being in the cafe, I got the manager to put her meal into a takeaway container for her and she smiled like a happy child. Great! We had raised a smile, it was a success. We happily made our way out and back to the car. It was a long walk and her legs were tired. I held her up but her feet had lost co-ordination, I was petrified I would drop her. Then all of a sudden in the middle of the town she stopped, stood still and pushed me away and screamed for all to hear “You! You stopped me paying for my new bed! Oh my new bed!” and she cried like a sad toddler who’d had a sweety taken away. She had mentioned the day before to my parents that a bed was the next thing on the list she needed. By now, we had all decided that agreeing with her was the easiest way to avoid upset and it usually was. I told her she wasn’t buying a bed today, she pushed me, she cried, people stared, it was so very sad. We somehow managed to get her into the car and home, all of us exhausted.
Things just went from bad to worse from then on. Two days ago we couldn’t get into her flat so I called her mobile which she eventually answered, and I could hear her pressing buttons on the handset so I kept shouting “Gran, Gran” and she eventually put it to her ear. She said she was on the floor and couldn’t get up. We had to rush to my mum’s to get the spare keys. When we got in, she was on the floor next to her bed and was like a zombie, she was not there at all, in any way. I got her onto her feet, even though she is under five foot, and probably weighs not much more than 5 stone, it was awkward, like a dead weight, and her legs refused to bend.
She insisted we get her into the kitchen so I held her up and we made our way there. She screamed “Where’s the kitchen! Where are you fucking taking me?” I reassured her we were feet away, then gently suggested I take her to the toilet first. She turned to me, on her unstable feet and growled “I don’t need the fucking toilet, take me to the fucking kitchen”. So, I did as she ordered, feeling more than a little teary, but desperate not to show her. I managed to get her into the kitchen and sat on a stool and she said she had been on the floor since yesterday afternoon. (This wasn’t true as my parents were up there gone 1am, so we know it happened after that.) She said she was starving and told me to put a pan of oil on. She wanted me to put every ring on the cooker on. As soon as I said no, I only needed one ring she screamed that nobody listens to her. Then she said she needed the toilet. I held her again, under her arms as she walked towards me and she started going there and then. She said oh sod it, she’d eat first and go later. I had already noticed the unmistakable stench in her bedroom, and knew we had some decisions to make about her future.
She made me put eight frozen sausages in the pan and wanted to eat them as they cooked. When I explained that frozen pork may kill her she actually accepted this and sat down and waited. The tea I made was too hot. With a bit of milk it was too cold. I was fucking useless, she said. That sort of thing was fine though, we were becoming used to that. Seeing her face look a bit more like her, and less like the woman she had become, I asked how she had managed to end up on the floor.
“Because of this fucking carpet. It’s all around the flat, it’s got to go. It’s all infected, everything that comes in contact with it has to go to, it’s all out to kill me”.
So there we had our next challenge. Her flat is carpeted throughout in the same carpet. She told us to start lifting the carpet. We said no. She said fucking lift it all. We said we can’t. She pushed me away to the front door and told me to shut my fucking mouth and insisted Dave lift the carpet.
This went on for two hours. At one point I went outside just to have 5 minutes to gather myself. She was not going to accept our argument that the floor was full of nails underneath, and a bare floor would have done her more harm falling out of bed. Now you try arguing with one of your elders who has lost all reason, it is impossible. I can’t remember how we managed to distract her thoughts but we did, and we left her with some sausages and tea, in her comfy chair in front of the tv.
My parents took over the care that evening and she was more or less the same. Then yesterday they got round to her flat, and again she was on the floor. It had appeared she’d had no sleep for two days and she had no idea what the time was. She was curled up on her kitchen floor, so mum phoned an ambulance this time.
After telling the paramedics to fuck off, they managed to get her into the ambulance and off to hospital. This is where she will remain until we get some sort of care package arranged.
It’s a relief. I never thought I’d be relieved for my gran to be hospitalised, but we can’t cope alone. We have tried our hardest, my mum is close to breaking point, and hated having to admit we need some help here. Watching her be so horrible to my mum is the most heartbreaking thing about this whole situation. They are (or were) really close. Really really close. She cried last night and said “I just want my mum back”. Watching my gran swear at her and hate her is unbearable. She is no longer the lovely little old lady she used to be. It feels like she has gone forever and left us with some sort of body that has been invaded by an evil stranger. But we know she is still in there somewhere, there are tiny snippets. We have managed to make her giggle here and there in between the madness, and that is a joy. But we are never going to get her back, and it fills me with such a deep, raw sadness that the rest of her journey on this planet is going to be cruel and painful for everybody involved.