jmgoyder

wings and things

Holding hands

I was holding Anthony’s hand the other day and he very gently removed my hand from his and gave it back to me.

Me: So you don’t like holding hands with me any more, Ants?

Anthony: It’s a bit tiring, Jules.

Okay.

16 Comments »

Dancing in the driveway

As I drove up the driveway this afternoon, towards the house, I saw that the dogs were out (Jack, our Irish terrier, and Pip, the new pup on the block). They were frolicking with each other so joyfully that my anxious heart immediately went into calm mode and then I saw why they were so excited.

Ming was dancing in the driveway!

17 Comments »

Dementia adventures

Well today was a bit different from the norm in the sense that my visit to Anthony was fleeting. I was on my way to see a movie with my mother and I literally only had about 10 minutes to spare.

So I rushed into Anthony’s room, admitted I was in a rush (to go to work – my latest ruse) and he was delighted. I knew he was delighted because he smiled and seemed happy to see me so buzzed. I hugged and kissed him multiple times and his smile got bigger.

And when I said, ‘seeya’ he was absolutely fine!

Is it possible that a fleeting visit like this can bring the same amount of joy and comfort as a prolonged visit? Would friends and family be more willing to visit if they knew it could be easy, fleeting, short-lived?

Anthony doesn’t know he has dementia on top of everything else and I don’t see the point in telling him this. But he does know who we are – his friends and family. Sometimes he is confused about who is who but so what!

We still have a lot of joy, and a lot of joy to come, if Ants keeps living and defying the odds. He is an absolute legend and has taught me so much!

 

 

14 Comments »

Dementia dialogues: “Let’s go home.”

This hasn’t happened for so long that I had almost forgotten: Anthony’s wish to come home.

From between noon and 3pm today, Anthony tried, futilely, to get up from his armchair and kept repeating “C’mon, Jules, let’s go home.”

Over and over and over again, I kept making excuses: “I have to go to work at 3pm, Ants” – in reference to support meeting I was attending this afternoon; reassuring him that his long-deceased mother was fine; re-explaining to him that he was in a nursing home and had Parkinson’s disease; and telling him how much I loved him.

Similar stories were shared at the family support meeting and I love the fact that we can comfort each other simply by acknowledging that we are all going through similar experiences with our loved ones.

It is 40 years since I fell in love with Anthony, the cheeky, macho dairy farmer with a penchant for motorbikes and fast cars – a man 23 years older than me who stole my heart.

And, no matter how much I would love to bring him home, I can’t; he is immobile now.

Perhaps, instead of always trying to be positive, I should just accept the fact that this is a horrible situation.

I can’t be bothered with the categories and tags that I should attach to this post/blog. From now on I am just going to write my heart out in whatever way I can and this will be such a relief!

This isn’t home anymore, Ants, because you are not here.

9 Comments »

Dementia and experimentation

Yes I realise this sounds a bit like the title of a horror movie (and in the past few hundred years people with Dementia were misunderstood, undiagnosed, and treated cruelly under a regime of ‘care’). So the idea of experimenting is a little fraught.

But now (2017) the institutionalised care of people, like Anthony, who suffer from dementia, is kinder. So the ‘experimentation’ I refer to in the title of this post is my own.

Let me explain:

I was recently made aware that Anthony was exhibiting antagonistic behaviour toward carers, particularly in the late afternoon when they were trying to put him to bed. It was a terrible shock to discover this so yesterday I decided to go to the nursing home later than usual. I already knew, via hearsay, that it had now become necessary to put Anthony to bed earlier rather than later and that 4pm was the ideal time. If it were left any later, he would become more rigid and resistant to the hoist, the handling, due to the confusion of his sundowning (a late afternoon phenomenon that exacerbates the confusion of Dementia).

Once I realised this, I decided to adjust my visits from early to late so that I could calm Anthony before and after the bed-time ritual. Yesterday, I did this for the first time: I was there in Anthony’s room before the carers came in to put him to bed; I told him I would be back very soon to give him his evening meal, and vacated the room for about 15 minutes. When I returned, Anthony was comfortably in bed, happy to see me again and even happier for me to feed him his meal.

And, when I left him, he was smiling. So I guess this will be my new routine from now on. I have resisted the idea of a routine until now but I think it’s probably time I paid attention to the rather obvious findings of this experiment.

A. Anthony is more prone to exhibiting antagonistic behaviour later in the day;

B. Anthony is more confused in the late afternoon;

C. Anthony may settle into sleep better if I give him a good-night kiss, even if it’s only 5pm.

So it’s useful to know that later-in-the-day visits are more comforting to Ants than morning/noon visits. This way I can be around before and after the bed-time routine and, hopefully, diffuse Anthony’s distress, fear, and confusion.

Me: Ants, the nurses are going to put you to bed and then I’ll come back to give you your meal, okay?

Anthony: Okay, but it’s a bit unorthodox, Jules.

Perhaps I am the one being experimented on – ha!

8 Comments »

Values

Ming and have both sought psychological help over the last few years and one of the most difficult questions to answer is “what are your values?” I think this is a very tricky question, but an important one. It is also a question that I have found extremely challenging to answer.

Stereotypical answers might be: health, family, financially okay, great relationships, good job, political stability, beautiful kids, long life etc. but these are too vague and I don’t like my own vagueness.

Perhaps the question should be rephrased to “what do I value?” This turns the noun ‘value’ into the verb ‘value’ and, in my opinion, makes the question easier to answer. For example, I know what I value most, whereas I can’t quite pinpoint what my values are.

What do I value most?

  • Kindness (the giving and receiving of);
  • My son’s growing wisdom;
  • Anthony’s smile;
  • Authentic relationships with family and friends;
  • Humour;
  • My ability to write about dementia;
  • The new puppy, Pip;
  • Honesty; and
  • Salad.

I haven’t been very good lately at looking after my physical, psychological and emotional health but, like many, I baulk at self-helpy stuff. But there is nothing wrong with self-help! After all, the best way of helping others, which is something I feel passionate about, is to get yourself on track first, surely.

Ming comes home tomorrow from a 6-day intensive beginning to a diploma in psychology which he will complete in around 15 months. He seems to have found his niche and I can’t wait to hear about all of it; we have already had some fascinating phone conversations.

Even pre-dementia, Anthony would never have understood Ming’s passion for helping people; nevertheless he would be so proud if he understood. Often Ants still thinks Ming is a toddler so when this great big man steps into the nursing home room it can be a bit confusing.

Ah yes – other things I value:

  • Laughter;
  • Still being in love; and
  • Ming.
18 Comments »

Dementia and misrecognition

Ming has been the first of the two of us to be misrecognised by Anthony because Ants keeps forgetting that Ming is now a 23-year-old adult, and not the toddler he often thinks he sees in his nursing home room.

Anthony always knows me but, on the other hand sometimes, when I am sitting next to him, he will talk about Julie to me not quite realising that I am Julie.

Neither of these misrecognitions is tragic – well, they don’t need to be! After all, Anthony is not deliberately misrecognising Ming by thinking Ming is one of Anthony’s numerous nephews. Of course the first time this happened Ming was understandably annoyed and hurt but, since then, he goes with the flow and often says, in his big, booming voice, “I am your son, Dad!”

I am quite prepared for the day that Anthony might not know who I am at all; after all, I know how dementia works and how it manifests itself differently for each and every individual. Why would I be hurt by something that can’t be helped? If Anthony’s dementia worsens, which of course it will, then it may be inevitable that one day he won’t know who the hell I am. I am ready for that.

I’ve said this before but will say it again; if Anthony stops knowing who I am, it doesn’t matter because I will always know who he is. This misrecognition thing that happens with dementia doesn’t have to be seen as a tragedy; after all, the person with dementia has absolutely no intention of breaking your heart by not knowing who you are. You can still be the most trusted, and most loving person, in his/her life.

Anthony: Where is Jules?

Me: Right here, Ants.

8 Comments »

“Look after yourself.”

I used to absolutely hate it when people said this to me. Over many years, so many people have said the following kinds of things:

You need to look after yourself, Julie!

You should get out more, Julie!

You’re exhausting yourself, Julie!

You don’t have to visit Anthony every day, Julie!

You should sell the farm, Julie!

You should smoke pot, Julie!

You need to get a life again, Julie!

This sort of well-meant advice enraged me at the time, and I resisted it, but now I am beginning to think that maybe – just maybe – it is time to make a bit of a change. A friend visited Ants the other day and, when this friend asked Anthony how I was, Anthony said, despondently, that he hadn’t seen me for days. But I had seen him the previous day! Admittedly I haven’t been into the nursing home as much as usual due to the new puppy (who, having only just been vaccinated, can’t be taken anywhere until next Friday due to the parvovirus outbreak), but it was frustrating to find out that Anthony hadn’t remembered my previous day’s visit.

And this is my dilemma: on some sensory level, Anthony notices my absence and conflates the single days I don’t visit into several days, so feels neglected. On the other hand, I might be with him day after day and he will still forget and this is a cognitive/time issue. This is an impossible conundrum that I wrestle with constantly but, due to the puppy situation, I have seen less of Anthony than usual over the last month.

The fact that, despite his now advanced Dementia, Anthony has noticed my absence, is terribly upsetting for me. On the other hand, I am beginning to realise that I actually do need to care for myself better. But I had to come to this realisation by myself and not succumb to all the ‘should’ advice.

When Ants was home and Ming was little we had an idyllic little triangle of love for each other; it was magic and it went on and on, for years and years, despite the onset of Anthony’s many illnesses (including kidney cancer in the first year of our marriage).

I will never, ever abandon him and not visit, but perhaps it really is time to re-find myself, look after myself. If I can learn how to do this better, I will be more effective in the carer support groups I am helping to facilitate.

Look after yourself.

12 Comments »

Living with and without Anthony

Six months ago I was interviewed on ABC radio about Dementia and this morning the station rang me asking if I would have another chat by phone so of course I said yes. Two hours later the phone rang and I was on the air again with Geoff Hutchison.

He introduced me by saying something like “We are talking to Julie Goyder about living with and without Anthony” and I thought this was a wonderfully simple, and yet profound, way of describing the situation.

When someone you love is admitted into a nursing home, especially if she or he is your spouse, the mutual loss can be heart-breaking and often entails feelings of guilt, fear and uncertainty. The intensity of these emotions (for me, at least) lessens over time, then sometimes erupts into the kind of depressive episode that overwhelmed me recently. For some reason, the phrase “living with and without Anthony” really got to me because that’s exactly how it is – a sort of limbo.

Nevertheless, I no longer see the fact that Anthony is in a nursing home as a tragedy. After we both accepted that this was how it had to be, it has been wonderful to see how well-cared for he is (and certainly better-groomed than he was at home!) And, as I’ve said before, not having to care for him has reignited by ability to care about him. We can eat, drink and be merry as long as I don’t have to take him to the toilet ha!

In helping to facilitate a couple of carer support groups lately, one thing comes across loud and clear. The carers – both those who look after their loved ones at home and those whose loved ones are now in permanent care – are suffering. Some of these carers are elderly themselves so the physical, emotional and psychological toll on them is massive, especially if their loved one has Dementia.

The projected statistics and associated costs of Dementia are alarming; so too are the repercussions on that burgeoning group of people who care for family members with Dementia. In recent times, more attention has been given to these carers but there is no easy solution and many carers are reluctant to seek help anyway. Why? Because it is embarrassing to ask for help, embarrassing to admit you aren’t coping, embarrassing to be confused by your loved one’s behaviour etc. And then there’s the shame. I remember when we had to make a fairly quick decision to accept Anthony’s respite room in the nursing home permanently. Anthony’s Dementia was in its early stages then so he knew what was going on and he felt abandoned, but he still agreed. My sense of shame lasted two years.

I wish I could convince others that placing someone you love in a nursing home is NOT something to be ashamed about; that admitting that you are not coping is NOT embarrassing – it’s the truth; that succumbing to Depression is NOT unusual if you are caring for someone with Dementia. There are some desperate stories out there (one caller to the radio station outlined her own experience this morning).

Living with and without Anthony is just the way it is; it’s difficult but it’s do-able. And so many of us do it silently. I choose to share my thoughts rather loudly here on the blog because there is a Dementia crisis that needs attention.

After I tried, ungently, to reposition Anthony in his armchair the other day, this was our conversation:

Anthony: Have you ever heard of the word, ‘fear’?

Julie: What? Am I supposed to be in fear of you?

Anthony: I won’t enlarge on that.

12 Comments »

Dementia and Depression

The title of this post is a bit misleading (intentionally) because it implies that Depression is an off-shoot of Dementia and, yes, sometimes this is the case.

Anthony, who recently turned 81, has Parkinson’s Disease Dementia but, even after having been in the high-care section of a nursing home for five years, he is rarely depressed.

Julie (that’s me), who recently turned 58, has Depression in the clinical sense – i.e. she has a disease in much the same way that Anthony has a disease. But, like Anthony, she is rarely depressed. There is a rather wonderful irony here.

I am not quite sure why I wrote the above paragraph in the third person except for the fact that I have been so deeply embarrassed by my diagnosis for so many years now that I find it difficult to admit. Admitting it now is my way of combatting the stigma that still exists, and rejoicing in the fact that there are treatments; that I have been helped by these treatments (medicinal and psychological); and that I have become sensitive to others who suffer like I used to.

In recent weeks I have had the most ghastly outbreak of Depression and yet, paradoxically, I have been able to function normally whilst visiting Anthony, looking after the new puppy, and interacting with friends and family. Ming is, of course, my priority, my favourite person, my rock but also, perhaps, my downfall in the sense that I feel I have failed him in so many ways.

There is a huge difference between Depression and being depressed; the former is a condition and the latter is a temporary mood. Obviously this is up for debate and I would appreciate feedback.

Dementia, on the other hand is, at least for Anthony, irreversible and ongoing/worsening. And yet he has the most amazing ability to comfort me, and to be so accepting when I leave him to ‘go to work’ (my latest ruse).

Me: I have to go to work. Will you be okay?

Anthony: Well, I’ll have to be, won’t I.

Me: So what would you rather have – me here with you or me making money?

Anthony: The money.

This has been a bit difficult to write so thanks for listening x

18 Comments »