jmgoyder

wings and things

Still Anthony

One of the things I’ve been most grateful for over the last few years of Anthony’s dementia is that his personality hasn’t changed. He is still easy-going, gregarious, humorous, accepting and gentle. Like Alice in Lisa Genova’s book, Still Alice, Anthony is still Anthony.

Or he was.

The other day, about an hour before Ming and I were due to give a talk to a group of Dementia Practice students, he rang me from the nursing home to say that Anthony had broken a staff member’s hand.

What?

Apparently Anthony has been exhibiting out-of-character behaviours recently, partly due to a urinary tract infection. He is antagonistic and physically resists being put to bed etc. It is painful for me to imagine such scenes as Anthony doesn’t behave like this when I am there so this has come as a shock to Ming and to me. I also feel terrible that someone was injured.

But, picture this:

You have no idea where you are. It’s 4pm but you don’t know that. Two women in uniform approach you with a big piece of machinery [hoist].They are trying to explain something to you but you don’t understand – something about a bed. As they begin to undress you, you try to say no, that you are cold, but you can’t remember the words so you lash out. You are so terrified that the adrenaline kicks in and you fight. If you could flee, you would, but your legs won’t work. You wonder where Julie is and why she’s not there. Who are these women, with their gentle voices and strong arms and why are they putting you into the machine?

Anthony is scared.

In one of the support groups I attend, a woman recently described how her husband’s gentle personality switched overnight; he became angry, jealous and threatening. She said, “I didn’t recognise him. He was a different person.” At the time I thought how lucky we were that this hadn’t happened to Anthony.

Ming and I admitted to the Dementia Practice students that the possibility of Anthony’s personality changing was a brand new challenge. Perhaps I should visit later in the day than earlier so that I can calm Anthony down. I know I thought of this idea ages ago, for different reasons. I’ll ask the staff what they think when I go in today.

I have been preparing myself for the possibility that one day Anthony might not recognise who I am.

It never occurred to me until now that one day I might not recognise who he is.

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Still Anthony

A couple of years ago I read Lisa Genova’s novel, Still Alice and, over the last couple of days, Anthony and I watched the movie. For those who haven’t seen or read the story, Still Alice is about how a linguistics professor, Alice, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 50 and how she and the family cope.

I suppose it was a strange choice of film to watch with a husband who has Parkinson’s disease dementia (and was probably a contributing factor in the grief I felt the other evening). But yesterday, as he and I watched the final scenes, he suddenly became quite engaged in Alice’s deterioration, and asked me what was wrong with her. I keep the dvd controller close so I can pause whatever we are watching whenever Anthony says anything.

Me: She has Alzheimer’s disease.
Anthony: It’s worse now, isn’t it.
Me: Yes.

I had paused the film at a particularly stark close-up of Alice’s confused expression (Julianne Moore is brilliant as the character Alice). Anthony and I both looked at her face for a few moments then I hit the play button again and we watched silently as the movie came to an end.

Unlike Alice, Anthony has not had to experience the creeping horror of knowing he has dementia. He still doesn’t know and I don’t tell him because I don’t want him to be afraid or embarrassed. So, when he asks where his mother is, or how she is (this is a frequent question) I just say that she is fine.

Anthony: Is she at home?
Me: Yes.
Anthony: Is Ming there too?
Me: Yes, and they’re both fine.
Anthony: So when are we going to Golden Valley?
Me: When the weather gets warmer, Ants. It’s too cold today.

Anthony’s mother died over 30 years ago and Golden Valley was his childhood home so the only ‘real’ aspect to these conversations is Ming.

I’ve recovered from my grief episode of the other evening and, since watching Still Alice, realise how lucky we are that Anthony has never had to go through that fear-of-dementia experience because it has just happened, insidiously, slowly, kindly even. He doesn’t know he has dementia; he still recognises all of us; there is still a lot of laughter and Anthony’s one-liners are hilarious.

Anthony: You need to brush your hair.
Me: I just did!
Anthony: Do it again, it’s not right.
Me: I’ll shave your head if you keep hassling me!
Anthony: Feisty!

Still Anthony.

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