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Driving a shopping trolley

One of my bitterest regrets is that Ms Alzheimer’s managed to worm her nasty way into the car quite so early in her tenancy. My Loved One was firmly told to surrender his licence immediately upon diagnosis. And that’s a distressing, demoralising blow when you’re only 71 and have driven expertly all over the world. I’ll never forget the exemplary way in which MLO sailed confidently onto and along a desperately confusing eight lane motorway in Atlanta, for example.

About five years ago Miss A (although I didn’t recognise her at the time) nipped off the ability to park. This man who’d been driving thousands of miles a year since his early twenties suddenly couldn’t judge where other parked cars, kerbs, walls and posts were. Not that he hit any of the aforementioned but there was no competence or confidence and a great deal of shunting forward and backwards and driving round the block looking for a bigger space. And the joke –  I do try to hang on to a sense of humour – is that this least macho of men, wasn’t driving a massive Mercedes or SUV. For years he had Fiat Pandas, with reverse parking sensors on the last one.

For a long time we’d arrive in, say, a multi storey car park and he’d ask me to park his car – and it was worse if he was driving my car which is a little bigger.  I used to giggle to myself that this stereotype-confounding behaviour must look extraordinary to anyone watching. “Hee hee hee” “I’d say. “He can no longer park. Ha Ha. What a good job I’m pretty damn good at it” I’d crow. Of course, I should have been thinking seriously about why he couldn’t do it rather than laughing and I’m ashamed of that now.

But he seemed to be OK when out on the road so I didn’t, in all honesty, give it much thought although he often didn’t seem to able to remember where destinations were and both our sons had long said that their dad seemed to have become a very slow driver.

Then came that dreadful diagnosis and the spatial awareness cognition test. One of the tasks was to copy a drawing of two interlinked figures of eight on their sides. Our youngest granddaughter, aged 2 would probably have made a better job of it than MLO did.  Miss A has definitely made off with his sense of shape and space. And although that doesn’t matter much if you bruise your thigh on a piece of furniture or even scrape a post in a car park, out on the open road it could be life and death. Thank goodness the accident was waiting to happen rather than having already occurred. The following morning, I downloaded the licence surrender form and made him sign it and post it. And a few days later we sold his car –  a clean break seemed best.

It is however still very hard for MLO. From the passenger seat in my car, he sees mad drivers doing the most unthinkably dangerous things (especially in London where we now live) and says “Look at that. I’ve never done anything as stupid as that in my entire life but he’s allowed to drive and I’m not”. I reply patiently: “Look, no one has said there’s anything wrong with your driving. It’s simply that you’ve been declared medically unfit to do it”. Unconvinced, he just grunts.

In another mood he’ll say. “They stopped me driving just because I couldn’t draw a silly diagram. I’ve never been any good at drawing. What has that to do with anything?” And I explain over and over again (many of our conversations are verbatim repeat efforts these days) what spatial awareness is and why it matters.

Worse, I get: “If only we hadn’t let those bloody women into our life then everything would still be normal”. He doesn’t mean Ms A either. He is thinking of the consultant, the nurse who is our first port of call at the euphemistically named “Memory Clinic” and the occupational therapist. Almost daily I tell him, as patiently as I can, that he has an illness. And he’d still have it whoever we consulted or agreed to talk to. “Loathe, hate and despise the illness if you like – but you can’t blame people who are merely trying, as compassionately as they can, to do their very difficult jobs” I remind him.

Meanwhile he worries that he can’t help me as he always used to.  And I really do have a lot to do – a business and home which I now to run more or less singlehandedly plus the “caring”. He used to pick me up in the car, share the driving, run errands, do the shopping and much more.

Ah. Did someone mention shopping? I’ve bought him one of those big square wheeled shopping trolleys – much cheaper to run than a Fiat Panda. We are less than a mile from two excellent supermarkets. So I’ve put him in charge of fruit and vegetables (and now have all the bulky stuff delivered)  – reminding him that exercise is meant to be vital in the management of Alzheimer’s. As long as he has a clear list he can manage that perfectly well at present. And it makes him feel both independent and useful. A tiny one in the eye for hateful Ms A for a bit.









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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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