The Dementia Diaries – by Eve Grace
Caring for someone with dementia requires skill, patience and love, along with a good sense of humour. Keeping things light-hearted can lessen the load for a caregiver, as one of our followers Eve discovered during a trip to visit her grandmother with dementia, who recently entered the care system.
Here, Eve shares her account with us as part of her Dementia Diaries series, published exclusively here at the Ambiance Care blog.
Just weeks after my grandfather died, and a week before his funeral, my grandma broke her hip and spent a month in hospital, after which she was discharged to a local care home, Mason House.
On arriving at this modern, appealing building, tucked away next to houses and two sprawling parks, I was impressed. Lavender swayed by the entrance and the pretty garden could be seen through some railings to the side. Inside, the welcoming foyer was pleasant and comfortable. A short walk through the garden led to a second building, and it was here, on the first floor, that my grandma was staying.
To reach the first floor, you first had to enter the ground floor through a door from the garden, straight into a communal residents’ area – a sort of bare sitting room with a TV and a few small dining tables with a pot of plastic flowers in the centre of each. Interested and confused faces would look up, and I would said hello politely, to which some residents responded with a smile or a grunt. There was a faint smell of wee – to be expected in a geriatric unit, I suppose.
Up the stairs to the first floor and through a couple of doors (a member of staff had helpfully given me the door code) I found my grandma in a replica of the communal room downstairs, sitting in a chair, staring off into space – as were the other residents, except for a couple of ladies in frilly frocks who were avidly but inexplicably watching the Commonwealth Games, women’s boxing segment.
“Hello, Joan!” I greeted my grandma brightly with a smile. This was my third visit that week, and I noticed her glasses weren’t on her face, as they would usually be.
“Where are your glasses?” I glanced around. Almost everyone in the room wore glasses. There was a pair of purple framed glasses on a small dining table, but they weren’t hers. I asked a member of staff about the missing glasses after poking around in Joan’s room and turning up nothing.
“Oh, they all put on each other’s!” she said.
Hmm. Several items of clothing were missing, too, I told her.
“The glasses might have been collected up with the laundry – let’s go and look. Follow me.”
So I followed the burly lady back down the stairs, back through the other sitting room (with the same interested faces) and back across the garden path, through a couple of doors and into the laundry room. There, I sifted through rails and boxes of clothes, identifying a nightie of Joan’s but nothing more.
“Janet, Joan Brown’s lost her glasses, can you fetch the glasses box?” the burly lady asked a second care worker, who’d appeared from the other side of the room.
Janet duly went off to fetch the box and returned after a moment, tipping out a surprisingly vast number of spectacles – there must have been at least ten pairs – none of which were Joan’s.
“You know what might have happened,” the staff member mused. “We’ve got a bit of a magpie up there – Barbara – she’s always nosing about in other people’s rooms and she’ll sometimes lift things – we find them stashed in her drawers. I’ll see if they turn up.”
We returned to the first floor sitting room, where the member of staff, having spotted the stray pair of glasses on the table, picked them up and gave them to a resident, Myrtle, who put them on. They weren’t hers, but she wore them for a bit anyway.
Meanwhile, another of the residents (I later learned this was the infamous Barbara) had resumed her daily pacing – a sort of mincing around, always with her handbag tucked under one arm. She approached me. “Could you give me the number for Houghton Lawn Tennis Club?” she asked, blankly.
“Erm, I’m not sure I know it, I’m afraid…” I trailed off, unsure of what to do. I glanced around for support, but the staff member had vanished. Barbara tutted and stalked off.
I dragged a pouf away from an empty chair and sat on it, next to my grandma. “I might need that later,” a hoarse voice croaked as I took a seat. “Okay!” I smiled cheerily (I hoped) at the lady eyeing me from a chair nearby.
Myrtle, still wearing the glasses that weren’t hers, began to approach slowly from in front with her walking frame, cornering me and regaling me with tales from her youth, when she’d go cycling on sports tracks in Manchester. After ten minutes of what I’d hoped was rapt attention (it was quite an interesting account, after all) I managed to dislodge myself from the pouf and stand up, only to be tapped on the shoulder by a gentleman who asked if I’d help him do up his suitcase.
“I’ve got arthritis in my wrists you see, and I need to fasten this case because I’m leaving soon.”
I looked down but there was no case to be seen, so, nonplussed, I suggested we wait for the staff member to return and help.
“Where ‘as she gone?” a resident piped up from the armchairs.
“What did she look like?” another asked.
“Was it that blonde one?” came a voice from one of the dining tables.
“Well, it wasn’t one of the two black ones,” the first resident answered.
Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Barbara making for Joan’s room but thankfully, she stopped just outside the door and turned round, bag firmly under arm. Nothing removed from room. Phew.
The staff member entered then, to my relief, and a conversation ensued about which day of the week it was.
“It’s definitely Sunday,” a rosy-faced lady said to her companion at the table.
“Are you sure it’s not Saturday?”
Poor things, I thought. I better tell them.
“It’s Monday today,” I piped up.
And then, from the staff member: “Actually, it’s Tuesday.”
She was right!
I spent some time chatting to my grandma afterwards and about half an hour later, when it was time to go, bade everyone farewell. As I exited, I noticed the gentleman from earlier appearing from his room, this time lugging a suitcase behind him…
The door closed behind me and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Down the stairs I trotted, and into the sitting room below. Dashing over to the door into the garden, I tried the handle, but it wouldn’t move. A lady in her 80s was already staggering towards me and again, no member of staff was to be seen. I glanced around for a keypad but found none; it was too late anyway, because the poor woman was already weeping, telling me that she should have arrived at her mother’s two days ago.
I tried my best to console her and had spied the keypad behind the curtain in the meantime but didn’t dare touch it, for fear that the lady might follow me into the great outdoors – and perhaps beyond. Within seconds, a member of staff appeared and I was finally – and somewhat desperately – able to let myself out, leg it across the garden, through the doors and into the quiet solace of my little car, where I sat for some time, relieved. It was to be one of many such surreal experiences – although I didn’t know it yet.