Lucky Geoff – the eureka moment

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the people who love and care for a person with dementia will experience a riot of emotions – bewilderment, sadness, frustration, anger.  However, if you can embrace one simple truth and engage with that truth every time you are presented with illogical, irrational or just plain irritating behaviour, you will hopefully be able to protect your own emotional well-being.

I was homeward bound travelling along the M4 after a particularly gruelling day on the road.  Radio Four was helping to keep me awake and I was listening to an interview about dementia.  I can’t remember who the expert was, but when he uttered the words…

“…YOU CANNOT REASON WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS NO REASON…”

…my lights came on.  Obvious isn’t it, but I can honestly say that hearing this simple phrase changed the way I viewed dear old Geoff and all of us were the better for it.

When Geoff was eventually taken into care, I visited him regularly and on fine days we’d have a stroll to the pub for a shandy.  He loved it and so did I.  We were comfortable in each others company, even though by now he did not know who I was.  He used to say “I don’t know who you are, but I’m sure you’ve been good to me”.  I didn’t bother to explain, we just enjoyed the moment.  One day he said “you know, I don’t know where I live; do you?”  I replied “haven’t got the foggiest mate; let’s have another pint”.  We both laughed.  But we didn’t have another pint, alcohol + dementia = disaster, so one weak shandy was quite enough.

Once you learn the knack of not reasoning, it can come in handy, but do please be very careful…

I was visiting dad in the care home and one of the residents was in a real state.  He imagined that he needed to to get to the station to catch a train home.  He accosted me for help, so I responded with “no worries mate, I’m going to the station after lunch, I’ll give you a lift”.  He thanked me, calmed down and rejoined the queue for lunch.  By the time he got his lunch he had forgotten about the train, and when I bid him farewell, he was still relaxed.  One of the ladies running the home expressed sorrow that they were unable to placate anxiety in the same way.  Evidently the professionals are not encouraged to lie.  In this case, there were risks associated with my actions and if the chap had remembered that I’d promised him a lift, I would have made a bad situation even worse.  This is a professional viewpoint .

 

 

Lucky Geoff – recognising the signs

A lot has been written about dementia.  There is no shortage of advice, but in case you have stumbled on my blog early on in a search for information, I’ll include a link which is a good starting point if you are on a quest for knowledge.

Early signs of dementia are subtle; looking back though, the first telltale indication was the confusing conversations.  We’d be talking to mum about a subject and then dad would veer off on a completely unrelated topic.  The problem was that as his short term memory degraded, so did his ability to concentrate, therefore his mind wandered.  We used to laugh about this at the time, not realising the cause.

And then there was the time he flagged down a motorway patrol vehicle on the M25 to enquire where the M3 slip-road was; he had a logical explanation as to why he did it and he was surprised that the officer he spoke to threatened to ‘nick’ him.  And then he was even more surprised when I had a go at him.  At the time I was upset that the role-model whose standard of driving I had admired and aspired to could act in such an idiotic way.  In retrospect, it should have been obvious that his judgement was failing.

Dealing with lost property will become a challenge for anyone associated with dementia.  As the condition worsens the sufferer may spend inordinate periods of time searching and when asked “what are you looking for”, they will probably have forgotten and respond with something like “I’ll know when I find it”.  Putting things in a safe (but illogical) place may become an issue.  Geoff regularly lost his keys and his wallet.  One day he telephoned my wife Glenys; he was in a panic because he’d locked himself in.  Glen dashed over to his home with a spare set of keys and released him.  She searched for hours to no avail; we found the keys several days later wrapped in his cap and pushed to the back of a cupboard, which leads me neatly into the ‘I-never-did-it’ syndrome.

One of the frustrations for a loving carer is that their loved one is unlikely to take any responsibility for their actions.  And when you think about it, why should they?  After all, who can be blamed for something they have no knowledge or recollection of?  The even more annoying consequence of this is though, that having spent hours looking for something, when you eventually find it, you’ll be blamed for hiding it in the first place.  So it’s hardly surprising that the people who love and care for a person with dementia will experience a riot of emotions – bewilderment, sadness, frustration, anger.  Hopefully though, they will also experience their ‘eureka moment’, which I’ll cover in the next blog.

Lucky Geoff

Geoff was my stepfather and this is about his journey into dementia.  I’m aiming to make it a lighthearted read which will be challenging.  However, if you have a friend or a relative taking this sad journey, hanging onto your sense of humour is vitally important.  We learnt a lot with Geoff; perhaps sharing some of our experiences may be helpful to others.

This is called ‘Lucky Geoff’, because as his story unfolds, I hope that despite the challenges he faced, thanks to the people who helped him along the way, I will be able to convey just how lucky he was.  I’ll start with a potted biography though.

  • Born in 1931 at 12 Love Lane Canterbury he resided in Canterbury and its environs all his life.
  • He completed National Service commencing on 20 October 1949 with the Royal Regiment of Artillery and was discharged on 4 November 1951, with the citation “a smart, honest, sober (sic) and trustworthy young soldier who has proved valuable over the two years that he has spent with the army”.
  • His National service included a brief spell in Germany, where he broke his wrist attempting to play rugby; he never was any good at sport (see hobbies and interests for exceptions to this though).
  • He had a variety of civilian jobs, including butcher boy, barman, and delivery driver. His final job was as a cleaner at the University of Kent, retiring in 1996.
  • The death of his dear wife (Minnie – my mum) affected him badly; a loss that he never recovered from.

Hobbies and Interests

  • Despite the citation on his National Service discharge papers, he did enjoy a pint or six! Hence…
  • In his younger days he was a demon darts and bar billiards player, playing for a variety of local pub teams. He imparted some of his darts skills to me and the pair of us used to scour the countryside pubs, challenging the locals who thought they could play darts and invariably showing them that they couldn’t!
  • In his youth, he had a passion for motorbikes. When he first met Min he took her out on an old BSA which they affectionately referred to as Clarence.
  • He was mechanically gifted, rebuilding one of my old motorbikes in our kitchen.  A steady stream of ‘bargain’ ‘old banger’ cars in need of TLC was a feature of family life, but this transportation enabled another of his passions – going on holiday.
  • The annual holiday was a key event, receiving much planning.  During the 60’s, it was generally camping, but there was one disastrous cruise on the Norfolk Broads (we blew the engine up, and the hot water system, lost the anchor and ran aground, all in the space of one week).  In later years we enjoyed several canal boat holidays together, but we never again allowed him to be captain!
  • Through later life, he developed a keen interest in gardening. He had a natural talent for this and strangers would regularly stop to admire and photograph his garden.

To sum up – “lovely old chap” was a phrase often used.  After Minnie died we took him on holiday to Salcombe (one of their favourite holiday destinations).  On leaving a local hostelry, the barman whispered to me “I wish I had a dad like that, you are very lucky”… how true.

That’s it for now.  I’ll tweet with #dementia as the story builds.

Take a breath… better make it a big one

Ok, you’re mine now; I have your imagination, let us proceed…

  • Hold onto that last breath. This is important.  Relax though, everything is completely fine.
  • Open your eyes; it’s fairly dark, but you can see a dim circle of light some way in front of you.
  • Look to your right and do please hang onto that last breath; about half a metre from your right elbow is a wall of rock. Now look to your left – ditto.
  • Look up; there’s a rocky ceiling, also about half a metre above your head. Trust me though, everything is fine, but do please hang onto that final breath.
  • Look down and keep holding that last breath; you’re sitting on white coral sand.

and then it gets very dark…

Oh, and by the way, I should probably have mentioned it earlier, but there is fifteen metres of water above your head, so if I were you, I’d carry on holding onto that last breath while we work out how to get you out of this self-inflicted predicament…

Lessons from the phone company

A mentor can be helpful – Mine was John.  John let mum and me have a room in a dilapidated terrace just off Berwick St in Soho (I had a colourful start, but that’s another story).  John was clueless as far as children go, but despite him treating me like a retarded adult, we developed a deep affection for each other.  John had a roomful of strange looking electrical kit and although he explained to me how stuff worked, he never divulged what he used it for, although there was a suspicion that he worked for the government.  Anyway, this curious young lad decided very early on that he wanted to be an electrical engineer.

Don’t always believe what an adult in authority tells you – Forward a few years and I’m standing before our Technical Drawing teacher; a Royal Navy war veteran who also had the job of careers master.
“What do you want to do O’Neill?”
“I’d like to get an apprenticeship with the GPO sir”.
“Does your father work for the GPO lad?”.
“No sir”.
“Brother”.
“No sir”
“Well then O’Neill, you can forget that.  I’ll arrange for you to join the Navy”.
I can’t recall how I escaped the careers master, but I was accepted as an apprentice with the GPO.

Nobody loves a smartarse – On a bitterly cold February morning, standing atop one of the poles that I had recently assisted in ‘planting’, the gang foreman was showing me how to bind-in aerial cable.  I watched patiently while he did it wrong and then said… “that’s not how they showed us on the course”.  To which he replied “ok, show me how they did it on the course”.  I undid his shoddy workmanship and replaced it with my own ‘state-of-the-art’ effort.  He looked, he pondered, he said “yeah, that’ll xxxxxxx work, I’m off to the pub, here’s the binding wire you can xxxxxxx well do the whole xxxxxxx route on your own”.  When they came to collect me at knocking-off time my hands had frozen to the cable and needed to be prised off.

Be careful what you wish for – At the age of 18 I was assigned to a planning office and was bored to the extent that I was applying for any job that looked even halfway interesting, including Telex Controller for Dubai and Senior Telecoms Manager for the Gilbert and Ellis Islands.  Needless to say, I was always weeded out at the paper sift until one day I spotted an advert for a local management job in what I thought would turn out to be exchange design.  Back then engineers viewed managers as suit wearing (insert expletive of choice) who’d had half their brains removed and their mouths made bigger, so my mates were disgusted with me.  But from where I was standing it looked like more money for even less work.  Anyway, I got the job and they sent me on a 12-week course.  The technical part of the training was a doddle, but the course also included customer services training; dealing with complaints, writing letters, managing people; all kinds of stuff that I was hopeless at.  Inevitably they gave me the job of running customer services for West Kent so the ‘suit wearing xxxxxxx’ had the last laugh!

What don’t kill you makes you stronger – The first few months of my new career nearly finished me.  One persistent complainant, I’ll call him George, he called me a moron, was phoning and writing daily berating me not only for our awful service (justified) but also for my lack of letter writing skills (also justified).  I recall sitting in the bath one morning plucking up the courage to go to work when it occurred to me that the only way I was going to escape George was if he died.  On arrival at the office, a member of my team who was reading the local paper (yes, my supervisory skills needed development as well) exclaimed that George had indeed died…whoops!  Anyway, for me, and George I guess, this was a turning point; I knuckled down, learnt to negotiate, write a letter and manage a team.  Nevertheless, 18 months later when they offered me a different challenge it took me all of 10 seconds to respond “YES… PLEASE… ANYTHING!”.

What’s this about?

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My plan is to write about the people, places and adventures that have inspired me over sixty odd years.  Mostly it’s just a way for me to recall and record the fun, excitement and times spent in good company, together with some of the pratfalls along the way, but if it makes you smile, so much the better.