I visited my father today and after 10 minutes left him alone and returned to my car in the car park in floods of tears.
A huge argument? A big family bust up? I think I would have preferred either, no, the cause of my distress was being unable to communicate with the man whom I have known all my life and who had a mind as sharp as a pin and was quick-witted. But then I haven’t been able to have a meaningful conversation with him for over a year.
Having had a major episode last Christmas, he was taken into a ‘mental hospital’ and retained under the Mental Health Act. We all knew that was the beginning of the end.
He stayed there whilst they found the right cocktail of medicines and during that time, he nearly died from hypothermia and had to sit in the epitome of what we all hate – the square room, chairs around the perimeter, huge TV on all day with whatever channel the carer chose and other residents in various states of ill health.
The level of care after the hypothermia incident was nearly faultless but when he had made a recovery, they wanted his bed for someone else.
So it was time to find a permanent residence for him.
One was found that we thought was reasonable and we expected the process to begin. But just two days later unbeknown to us, he was moved to the nursing home, presumably by the staff, but who knows. We certainly didn’t until someone left a message on the phone a day later to say he was in the home.
So today I wanted to see him, reassure him he hadn’t been abandoned, that there were people who still loved him and cared what he thought and felt.
But he had become so agitated and distressed that he had been aggressive with staff and not slept at night, a common problem with dementia sufferers.
The nurse told me there had been “elbows in the stomach and it took three people to restrain him”.
So when I arrived at 11.30 in the morning he was more or less unconscious. His skeletal form was painful to look at and his skin felt paper thin when I touched his hand.
Experiment all you like you doctors, legislate all you wish you ministers, make excuses and apologise all you wish you carers.
Dementia sufferers maybe cognitively destroyed and their condition may manifest itself in different ways, but to all of you, especially carers, remember that frail agitated form used to live a great life and would probably beat you at most mental puzzles hands down and remember they are still humans in need of the highest regard for their deteriorating mental health.
More than anything, they need understanding, reassurance, kindness and most of all, to maintain their dignity.