Lucky Geoff – Virtuous Circle

Geoff and Cyril were neighbours.  Geoff completed National Service after the war.  As a POW Cyril took part in the infamous ‘Death March’ across Europe.  Nothing phased Cyril.

When Cyril’s wife died, Geoff comforted and looked out for him.  Cyril recovered.

When Geoff’s wife died he was inconsolable; dementia soon followed.  Cyril looked out for Geoff and kept him safe.

Geoff moved to a care home and as Cyril’s health deteriorated Jenny moved into Geoff’s old home.  Jenny looked out for Cyril; she smartened him up, prettied his home, gave him hot food and became his friend.

Cherish your neighbour.

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.