As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
IT took a while to get a diagnosis. Looking back it had been coming on for years.
It started when she began to believe that everyone was stealing from her. The first time it happened to me, I was visiting on my own and rushing to go to Dublin for a meeting. “I need to have a serious chat with you,” she said, just as I was leaving.
Her face was dark with distress. “You’ve been stealing from me,” she said, “I’ve been watching you for three years now.” I laughed. Quite honestly I thought at first she was joking.
But this was no joke.
As she rattled on about the horror of my stealing, I sat down in shock. Sadly that day I wasn’t fully aware that this was the start of dementia. Instead I began to argue and try to find out what sort of misunderstanding was going on.
‘She agreed to “respite care” in a nursing home. Blessed relief came when every health professional she met, identified the dementia, at last.’
“But what did I steal?” I asked her. “My good sheets, my pillow cases, my tea towels,” she said almost in tears. I simply could not compute this accusation. It was such a weird set of things to want to steal for starters. An old lady’s bed sheets, not jewellery or money, just linen! I laughed again.
“You must be joking, why would I steal your sheets?” She wouldn’t let it go. I was so confused but now also really hurt. She thought I was stealing from her? She had been watching me for three years? I was distraught.
In anger, and I admit it, I put my bag up on the kitchen table and opened it. “Now look here I said, I have no sheets, pillow cases or tea towels in there. Go on check before I leave.”
“Get away out of that,” she said. “I know exactly what you’ve done and that’s all that matters. You can bloody well bring them back to me immediately!”
At that point I had to go to my meeting and I left in a bit of a state. The thing is, there were no other real signs in the beginning. It just started off with paranoia and in particular this terrible nightmare that her most trusted family were on the make. Stealing sheets and I suppose God knows what else. She felt she could no longer trust us at all.
I rang her GP and told him what had happened. He would do an assessment with her at the next visit. Surely something would show up. When he met with her, the questions about what day it was, who is the Taoiseach etc, didn’t phase her for one minute. He even sent out two dementia nurses to make another assessment. But she passed every test.
She was more furious than ever, that as she saw it, everyone was doubting her sanity. All of this made it even more difficult to support her.
I eased off on visiting for a while but soon the same thing began to happen to other family members. Then she began to lose things. Everything was getting wrapped in paper bags and squirreled away in drawers and under beds. Her bedroom became a locked fortress. Presents we gave her were shoved into corners and wardrobes. Spare kitchen towels and toilet rolls were hidden in that bedroom along with all sorts of letters, notes and old photos.
Now in her 90s she broke, first one hip and a year later the other one. Still she insisted on living alone. Her GP and all of the family tried to help, tried to reason, but she wouldn’t hear of going into a home. The dementia was taking hold.
Then came another fall, this time a broken hand. Already blind and deaf, she became a danger to herself, especially around the kitchen. She agreed to “respite care” in a nursing home. Blessed relief came when every health professional she met, identified the dementia, at last.
Luckily she has now settled into the home. She helps with the “old people” and wears her fancy high heels down to the “restaurant.” Recently she fell, as she does regularly, and this time had to be brought by ambulance to the hospital.
“Why did you have to bring me to London on a plane just to meet a load of quacks? There’s no way any of those quacks are laying a finger on me.” So back she went, to the home, without even one x-ray.
“Maybe flatter shoes would be the answer to all this falling?” Someone ventured. “Don’t be ridiculous,” says she, “No way I am going down to that lovely restaurant in a pair of slippers!”
She’s more feisty than ever but she doesn’t even realise that she missed being at the Christmas table for the first time. Ever.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com