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Heading down the plughole

If life with Ms Alzheimer’s is a “journey” then every week seems to bring a new staging post on the road downhill.  My Loved One now seems to be a compulsive mover of bits and pieces around the house for no reason. I suppose it relates to some distant, foggy memory of tidying up but it’s jolly irritating to live with.

The well fitting, good quality upstairs bathroom basin plug went AWOL weeks ago. The several cheap and nasty replacements I have bought are uselessly leaky so now it’s impossible to run and retain a basin of water. I try not to curse. I really do.

Then there was the birthday card I carefully bought for my great niece this week. I put it with a stamp at the top of the stairs ready to take down and write later – it disappeared. As did the towel from the downstairs loo which I eventually found quite by chance neatly folded in the umbrella box on the shelf in the coat cupboard in the hall. Newspapers are frequently folded up and put in funny places – usually before I’ve read them – and I seem to spend several minutes every day hunting for the Marmite which could be anywhere. One evening last week in the hour  between the carer leaving and my getting home from a review job all the sitting room coasters were carried up to our bedroom. I recently found his toothbrush wrapped in a clean face flannel and put in a drawer and so it goes on.

I’m aware of course that this is a classic Alzheimer’s symptom. My best friend’s mother used to drive her daughter potty by hiding things such as keys around the house – or worse – throwing then away in my friend’s absence.  Another friend has now removed all her mum’s jewellery because she’s so afraid it will get hidden and or lost. Years ago we laughed (sorry – I wouldn’t think it remotely funny now) when a distant elderly relation died and her family found stashes of quite large sums of money hidden in unlikely places all over the house.

The trouble is that you can’t reason with them and that’s hard to deal with when until relatively recently you could have a sensible, grown up conversation. I am constantly (and tetchily) saying. “Look, if I put something down in a certain place there is a reason for it. If you don’t understand the reason, don’t worry about it. JUST LEAVE THINGS ALONE, PLEASE” At brighter moments he understands this. Sometimes he even laughs at his own eccentricities but within minutes he will have forgotten –  and be at it again.

And of course, I’m not the kindest or most patient of carers however hard I try. In practice it means I allow him do less and less. It’s more convenient to do everything myself in the first place than to have to sort out his muddles. Yes, I know that flies in the face of the recommended way to deal with Alzheimer’s patients but I’m me and there it is.

MLO is very restless these days and likes to struggle up from the table and try to carry things into the kitchen – typically before I’ve finished eating so I find myself barking: “Leave that please. I’ll do it when I’m ready.” And the problem is compounded by his quite often “seeing things” which is another classic symptom. He’ll mistake a pair of shoes on the floor for an animal, for instance, or if I ask him to walk out of the bathroom door he sees/imagines a door at the other end of the very small space and heads in the wrong direction.  And sometimes it’s surreally, harmlessly hilarious. Younger son, in charge for a few hours last weekend, reports that when he gave MLO a ginger biscuit, the latter wanted to put a battery in it.

When people casually commiserate with all this my usual response is to throw it off lightly by saying. “Oh well, it’s just the shit life throws at you”. Lately that has become a bit .. err … literal. A heartfelt thank you to whoever invented  disposable latex gloves.

And now, here comes the upbeat bit: By the time this posts, and you read it, I shall have escaped, very thankfully, to rural North Yorkshire for three nights leaving Elder Son in charge at home. The lovely friend I’m going to stay with is very good at “respite” and I shall be allowed to sleep all night, not to have to wash and dress anyone other than myself and to have proper chats with someone who answers properly rather than ricocheting between non-sequiturs. No one will hide the basin plug either.


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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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