On this, the traditional day for romancing, I thought I'd delve into the world of my work with people with dementia and their carers. So often I come across individuals and couples whose resilience in spite of this dreadful disease is remarkable. They demonstrate, through their daily actions, the meaning of true and enduring love. I'm not being at all cheesy when I say that I am privileged to know them. Here's one story. For the sake of confidentiality let's use aliases for this couple and call them Fred and Ginger for their dance through life together is inspirational.
On first glance you wouldn't know that Fred has dementia. He is smartly dressed and is very smiley. But that's because Ginger spends one and a half hours carefully dressing him each morning and is careful to provide a calm and loving environment where his care is provided. Toileting Fred is a big deal and is a task that is fraught with danger and often involves cleaning up accidents. And that's just the starter for ten. There's feeding, teeth cleaning, shaving, giving medication, putting on support stockings, watching Fred as he has a hot drink...the list is a long one. Fred is a wonderful man who is lively and enjoys life to the full. But he's very disoriented to time and doesn't have an off switch. For him to get up six times a night isn't that uncommon. He has no idea of the layout of his home and if he is not watched constantly can end up wandering off down the street playing a bizarre game of dodge with passing traffic. Ginger does all this for a man who doesn't even recognise that she is his wife anymore. She acknowledges that he barely differentiates between her and the team of paid carers that assist her. Yet, she accepts this with stoicism and is generous in her appraisal of the help that the other women around her give.
You'd think that I'm painting a dire picture here but I'm not. Fred and Ginger's lives contains a fair modicum of joy. Fred is a sociable man who thoroughly enjoys his time at the day care centre he attends. He is near universally loved by everyone that comes across him. The couple still socialise together at a club that they have attended for many years and have many friends. Ginger looks for creative ways of occupying Fred so that his life is meaningful. She uses an i-Pad to great effect to share memories and actively looks for way that her husband can indulge his passion for music, one of the few things that relax him. Though Fred's speech is no longer comprehensible and he does not entirely understand what others say to him he was still able to hum along to Beethoven's ninth symphony with me the other day.
I hope that this has given some of you food for thought and demonstrated that dementia does not have to be living hell. Given the choice of a giant heart-laden teddy or someone who'd stick by me through the thickest of the thick and thin, I'd know what I'd choose.