Two years have elapsed since Dorothy went into full-time care and it seems more like ten years. Maybe it has been that long, in truth, since it became obvious, to everyone except me, that she had been developing Alzheimer’s. We all, myself, neighbours, friends and family could cope at first; after all, everyone has memory lapses but, after a while, other things about Dorothy’s behaviour began to be different, subtle changes at first, such that I didn’t pick-up on them, but our children and others could.
Alzheimer’s has many forms and recognising it may not be a sudden realisation – certainly, I was slow to perceive Dorothy’s behaviour and reaction to circumstances; perhaps because is normal for a partner to make allowances for ‘forgetfulness’ now and then. After all, I find myself needing constant reminders, little notes, diary entries, I even resort to using special places to store certain objects. For example, when retiring at night, I run through a procedure that I have (a) my keys, (b) my phone, (c) my wallet, then (d) remember to plug in my phone and watch to charge, and ensure I have both my reading and normal spectacles. If that lot checks OK, then I can rest easy (or try).
Dorothy, in care and with nothing more than awareness of the moment, cannot and need not concern herself with such ‘critical’ matters! There are at least only two times during the day when something other than the moment is important: one when she awakes and then washed and dressed by the staff, and then at the end of her day when they ready her for bed. When I visit, sometimes for a whole day (pre/post coronavirus!) I see and frequently participate with her in a range of activities organised so well by Blue Cross at her residence. Of course, Dorothy is in an Alzheimer’s wing with a dozen or so others and life in there is a constant challenge for the devoted staff. I say devoted because in most cases, they are, and indeed need to be. Clearly, I could not give her the care and attention she now gets.
As the disease progresses, so does the inability to be continent, to feed oneself, indeed, to dress and undress and to attend to personal hygiene, full stop! Sometimes, as it was last evening, there was no way Dorothy wanted to undress and get kitted-up for bed – well, not by me, anyway, but the staff were somehow able to gently coax her and achieve that, and to settle her with the others into a lounge area with mood TV and music, all ready to peaceably retire between the sheets sometime later (I have yet to witness that manoeuvre!). Over the past two years I have seen how some of the other residents have become less ambulant and more (or less) ‘combative’, at times prone to aggravate each other in various ways, seldom combative but often a bit touchy, and I have great admiration for the staff who need to be vigilant and clever at distraction!
Many of the residents now need to be assisted at mealtimes and, on a couple of occasions during the year I have stayed on to have a meal with Dorothy. I notice she has some rather strange table manners (as do most of the others!), sometimes using fingers instead of a fork, or putting a potato into a cup of tea, or other actions too various or messy to explain here! And that means the staff need to help out, clean up, to coax, be vigilant and be present to ensure the meal is consumed with a degree of decorum! Often there is medication to be administered before, during or after a meal, too. That meal process happens three times daily and is added to with morning and afternoon teas as well. A nice weekly feature is the ‘special’ brewed coffee, finger-food and cake, afternoon-tea on a Friday.
Her days are also punctuated with a range of light physical group activities – simple, like catching and throwing a balloon – and a range of more physical low exertion exercises. Walking outside in their own outside garden area with its special soft-paved areas is good, but I am hoping that the minibus excursions will resume in 2021. In the meantime, coronavirus permitting, I continue to take Dorothy out for drives and to nearby parks for walks. It continues to amaze me how, comparatively easily, she can rise from a seat, indeed get in and out of the car, unaided. I always give her a walking stick, but in fact she’d cope easily without it! I am super-careful to not risk a fall – for both of us!
This was the first Christmas I can recall in 63 years when I was not with Dorothy. Instead, I had a few delightful days in northern Victoria with some of our extended family. Yes, here it is, the end of the year, we are, really, ‘nearly there, Dad!’.
I wonder how we will both cope next year, next week, next visit. But isn’t that what I say every night as I pray, check keys, phone, wallet, etc…….?