The ravages of old age

My mum is 90 this year, which is not so newsworthy as it would have been when I was a kid, but an achievement all the same. Or perhaps I should say that I know an old lady who will be 90 this year: the extent to which she is still my mum is what has prompted this post. She’s just spent 2 weeks with us in France, and it’s the longest uninterrupted time I’ve spent with her for several years. The standard “overnighter” doesn’t reveal the same degree of decline, or highlight it with quite such ruthless contours.

She was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 18 months ago, but it’s clear that the disease had been wreaking its particular havoc for a long time before that. There are of course many sufferers much more severely affected than my mum; she still knows who I am, and most other people if she’s known them long enough. But her ability to recall trivial things over more than a few minutes is seriously compromised.

“Now, where am I?”

“In France, mum.”

“France? But how did I get here? I haven’t told anyone I’m going away, you know.”

“Don’t worry, mum, you did! Everything’s OK.”

“Well, I think someone could have told me what was happening!”

“Mum, we did. We’ve been planning this with you for 4 months!”

And so on. Along with going to the loo every half an hour, and every time having to ask where it is. All mixed in with random things that have somehow lodged in her memory, such as the appointment with the dentist that my brother is supposed to have made for her back in England, and which she is forever hoping he’s not forgotten to do.

Although the constant questions about the same things, the repeated panicking that she’s brought no clothes with her, the permanent apology for “being in the way”, which she isn’t, can all become wearing after a while, it’s not that which really matters or concerns. The really dispiriting and emotionally draining aspect is reflecting on what all this confusion must be like for her. It’s hard to imagine how it must feel to be so continually and totally disorientated. If I simply can’t remember the most apposite word for some thing or situation it drives me to distraction until I’ve recalled it, but that is as nothing compared to this. The frustration and terror must be unendurable.

On Monday I arrived with mum at the pre-arranged meeting place where my brother was to collect her and take her back to Lincolnshire. As she goes off with him, she turns to me and says, “Thanks so much for the lovely weekend!” My brother and I look at each other and shrug. What else can we do?

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10 thoughts on “The ravages of old age

  1. I’m in same situation vis a vis my aunt – also 90 this year. I truly relate & sympathise with you. The sense of helplessness and a sort of grief when you see your loved one ‘dying without dying’ is immense. God Bless xx

  2. Don’t know you but this is a truly sad situation – had 10 years of this with my grandmother – she died twice really – good luck with it

    • Thank you for visiting and commenting. So many of us are having to come to terms with this “modern” affliction of old age, and it can only touch more of us as time goes on. I appreciate your good wishes.

  3. We lost my Grandad to Alzheimer’s around 5 years ago now and he too showed signs of it for up to 3 years before he was officially diagnosed. Know what your going through and can only offer my kind regards

    Andy

  4. I found you on Twitter – much love and support from the opposite end of the earth. I think you are marvellous, your mum did a god job :)

  5. My grandmother is 99. She forgot my name a little while ago and that really shocked me. She was always so huge when I was a child. A terrifying matriach who ruled the house with a wooden spoon.

    Now she is tiny and can no longer bathe herself. I feel compassion for her and fear for what the future holds for me – as selfish as that sounds.

    It’s tough. Well done for not running away!

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