My dad and dementia
My name is Matt and my Dad, Peter has Dementia
My Dad is a gentle, charming 85-year-old man with a good sense of humour.
About five or six years ago he started to lose things on a regular basis. Or he would leave something on the stove and the saucepan would catch fire. He’d also hide things in strange places. Once I found his TV remote control in a bag in the shed along with some chocolate biscuits (now half eaten by mice) and paperwork.
We had a good relationship with his GP and she referred him to the Memory Clinic. He hated going along for the tests and would get very stressed beforehand. After a series of tests showed his memory had deteriorated, in 2013 he had a brain scan which confirmed he had Alzheimer’s.
When he was diagnosed he was understandably very upset. He went to the library and read up on the condition and came back even more depressed.
He was really cross about not being able to drive and his self-esteem took a battering. He then decided he wanted to start riding a bike in his 80s. My brother and I were naturally worried and discouraged him.
The Alzheimer’s Society organised for him to attend a local support group and set him up with a befriender, which meant he could still get out and about.
Shortly after being diagnosed my dad became pre-occupied with filing and would spend literally hours just staring at one piece of paper trying to make sense of it. Looking through his files now is like going on an archaeological dig; but one where the timelines are all jumbled up. You’d find some takeaway leaflet on the top, then an unpaid cheque from a couple of months back and then my brother’s mumps certificate from the 1960s. Documents hidden away for years were unearthed; some would make me chuckle, a postcard written by me as a kid from my first school ski trip, my older brother’s note to himself as a 10-year old about wanting to join the navy, but others pierced my heart. My baby’s sister’s death certificate was something I shouldn’t and wouldn’t have seen had my dad not become ill. But it jumped out at as I sorted through the file.
As he deteriorated we set up twice daily carers. But then he started ‘wandering’ and turning up at the hospital not quite knowing why he was there. Strangers brought him home or the police were called. We had no choice but to arrange 24-hour care.
There are, of course, still some good moments with Dad, like an enjoyable evening at my brother Gareth’s house at Christmas but these are often interspersed with painful moments, like when I was driving home that very same evening and my dad suddenly asked “Where’s Poppy?”. My mum, nicknamed Poppy, had died of cancer some ten years earlier in 2003. Having to tell him that mum was no longer with us burst that happy little moment and brought it back home just how much dad’s dementia can rob him of his memories.
As the disease has progressed conversation has becoming increasingly difficult with Dad, and our shared memories are diminishing but there are still ways for us to enjoy each other’s company, like table tennis.
A keen cricketer in his youth, he has retained brilliant ball skills and one of the main reasons we chose the care home he is in is that there is a table tennis table in the garden square opposite.
Dementia doesn’t mean that dad has lost his ability to spin and slice the ball. Passers by often do a double take when they see an octogenarian playing so well, mostly trouncing me in the process. Even though he couldn’t say who I am anymore there is still a bond. He knows that he knows me.
Dementia can be an incredibly cruel and difficult disease for families to deal with and I would do anything to stop others going through the same heartache my family has experienced. We urgently need to find a cure to beat dementia but also need to increase understanding across society to help support people with dementia and their carers.
For more information on Dementia please visit alzheimers.org.uk
Matt, 51, was a journalist for more than 20 years before retraining as a primary school teacher. He lives in South London with his wife and two teenage daughters.