Variety is the spice

‘Variety is the spice of life’, so the saying goes. And it’s true, but it does depend on how much spice you like! In the past week or so Dorothy’s health and her disposition (for want of a better word) has been too varied.

Dorothy hardly knew I was with her the other day; she would not look at me or talk or listen, and kept mumbling figures, like she was counting: 90, 94, etc., and didn’t want to walk, as she usually will, and yet she didn’t want to sit, either. Then, when she did sit, she didn’t want to get up! Contrary and stressful for both of us.  The very next day, she was pleased to see me, greeted me with a kiss and happily walked around the building, inside and outside. The care home has a safe outside walking area and we can look at trees and find birds in the nearby trees – well – sometimes, and that visit was as good as it gets. The very next day Dorothy was not at all aware of who I was and was reverting to a habit she developed about two years ago, of closing her eyes (while seated!) and not wanting to open them, even when I entreat her. She seems to go off into a half-dreamlike trance, yet awake and partially responsive. For me, it has always been a scary state of affairs. Ultimately, maybe half an hour or more of stimulation, like talking to her about anything and everything, she will open her eyes again and, sort of, re-join our encounter.

On that day when she wouldn’t look at me, I tried to break the spell, so to speak, by taking her by the hand, out of her unit through the locked door to the internal cafeteria. In my misguided ‘therapy’, I thought a change to her usual surroundings might help. So, I ordered two coffees, as I have done many times before, but she wouldn’t even pick up the cup. Her behaviour was so erratic; she was constantly just closing her eyes and not responding, that I had to admit defeat and I gently lead her back ‘home’ again, coffees untouched.

We all have our ‘off’ days, but Dorothy’s Alzheimer’s is causing her to have more than either of us can cope with. I so admire the staff at her care home! It is such a contrast to the horrible examples we sometimes see and hear exposed in the current government enquiry. That’s not to say they are perfect, but nearly so! All her nightgowns, shoes and other clothing that ‘disappears’ usually turns up. Sometimes it gets lost in the laundry, sometimes other residents wander in and out of each other’s rooms picking up ‘items of interest’ and finding them a different home. Totally understandable and easily tolerated until, one day recently, not one of her eight nightdresses could be found! Magically over the next few days, most came ‘home’ – thank you, staff for finding them. And yes, all the clothing has name tags!

So, I am not sure about ‘spice’ being quite the right word to describe (and for me to discover) daily, that Dorothy can be in a different state of cognition from one day to the next. And it’s the same for the other dozen or so residents in her dementia wing; it is hard for her, her fellow residents, for me, and the staff. Thank God that there are people who care; staff who can cope with the variety of so many types of Dementia. That’s not the spice of life that I seek!