Life can be cruel. An old teacher of mine died two weeks ago. I missed the funeral as I was off ill with pleurisy. But I had seen him at the nursing home a month earlier. We sat in a silence which would have once seemed companionable, but which was now anything but.
He was elsewhere. At home and receiving visitors, but very definitely out. Or rather dwelling deep within the parallel universe that is end-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
I searched his eyes for the ghost of the man who once held political history classes in thrall.
I fed him the mush that passed for lunch through a straw, wiped his chin, searched for some mutual long-term memory that might reach him.
Words, music, politics, films, poetry... and some of the mush he used to force feed us.
I was clutching at straws in every sense. Alzheimer’s is the closest thing I know to Purgatory. It’s also a timebomb.
We need to get diagnosis earlier, to access help, put support in place, particularly for carers who have to come to terms and cope with the absence in the very presence of a loved one.
That’s why, much as I detest the woman, Margaret Thatcher’s biopic, a life viewed darkly through the distorted looking glass of Alzheimer’s, the very condition which claimed former prime minister Harold Wilson, may yet raise awareness through a mirror image of other lives.
Alzheimer’s is the elephant in the living room. We dread it but don’t discuss what if...? My wishes are as clear as my current consciousness and conscience dictate.
Until the state provides me with clinic, Champagne, pills and a get out of jail free card for anyone clutching at my straw, I’ll pin last hopes on a Living Will barring medical intervention to prolong the process of any decline beyond my control.
Alzheimer’s unravels me. Earlier this year, three elderly ladies took me for their daughter on a visit to a rest home.
They will have forgotten me within minutes but I haven’t forgotten the hugs. They call Alzheimer’s the long goodbye. I embarked on just such a farewell this week – to a friend of 35 years standing.
And this week the Alzheimer’s Society revealed hundreds of thousands of pounds have been lost to local people made vulnerable by dementia to conmen, cold callers, telephone canvasses and rogue traders.
A Lytham man told me how his 84-year-old dad lost £1,000 to salesmen in command of their own faculties, yet callous enough to exploit his mental frailty.
“Anyone could see dad was not in his right mind,” he said.
The charity wants more dementia champions appointed in banking and other ranks to guard against such abuses.
I’d like to see charity start at home. Watch out for others. For your own peace of mind.