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Tasks, errands and errors

So it’s Alzheimer’s Awareness Week. Well, yes please, we need plenty of that.

I’ve also just spotted, in newspapers and on the Tube, adverts for the “Alzheimer’s Show” at Olympia next month as if Ms Alzheimers’s hapless victims were like Ideal Homes, yachts or fancy cars. An Alzheimer’s joke? We don’t get many of those. In all seriousness, there’s not a lot that’s “showy” about this horrible illness but I suppose it all helps with awareness.

Meanwhile back at the sharp end I find myself worrying increasingly about balance. All the advice from experts is that you should keep your Alzheimer’s person doing as many normal things as possible for as long as you/he/she can – even if it means that tasks aren’t done properly. Well it makes sense but I suspect the advice comes, in general from people who, well meaning as they are, don’t actually have to live this illness 24/7.

I am trying to get our “new” (we moved into our present house 20 months ago) garden into shape. Among other things I bought a bottle of bug spray and a bottle of weed killer. “Here you are” I said to My Loved One, handing him the latter. “This is a present for you. Now you can sweep the brick paving and spray between the cracks on the drive way.”  He’d mentioned several times that it needed doing and it was always his job to keep the brick paving tidy in our old house.

On Sunday afternoon I put my old clothes on and went out to do some serious weeding. Ten minutes later MLO was hovering nearby. This is the usual pattern these days when I start any domestic job. He stands and watches me. I can never decide whether it’s because he’s critical of the way I’m doing something (emptying the dishwasher for example) which he used to do and no longer can, merely curious or suffering from some sort of anguished envy.

Anyway, there we were in the back garden. The next time I looked up from the dandelions he was trying (and failing, fortunately) to open the weed killer spray. Opening almost anything is a problem these days. “I’ll just spray those aphids on the roses” he said. “NO!” I shrieked which led to a quite cross rejoinder: “Why do you always shout at me when I try to help?”

Well, I know I’m supposed to let him do things but that certainly isn’t going to include passively allowing him to spray weed killer onto the plants I’m trying to nurture. In the end I opened both sprays and got them working and sent him firmly round to the front with weed killer where he made an adequate job of the tidying up. It took him all afternoon, he was exhausted at the end of it and I later found two little piles of leaves and bits which he’d forgotten to sweep up … but never mind. I haven’t bothered to try and explain that we have two sorts of pest – weeds and bugs aka as flora and fauna – and they need treating differently. In the old days, of course, he would have known that as well as I do.

He still manages a bit of shopping with one of those geriatric four wheeled trolleys. I get all the groceries delivered and just send him to choose fresh fruit and vegetables which is genuinely useful and I feel virtuous for facilitating it. The walk – about a mile each way – is doubtless good for him too. It takes him well over two hours but he’s not exactly time poor. He does other single task errands too such as walking to the post office with a packet or collecting one from the sorting office – as long as I’m there to let him in when he gets back because he can’t operate keys in locks.

And he’s obsessed with going to banks for statements. I’ve told him repeatedly that I now have everything online and he has only to ask and I will tell him or show him the balance and transactions on any of our accounts. But I suppose getting a statement for himself makes him feel independently grown up  and, I frequently have to remind myself, that’s very important.

It’s still jolly difficult, though, to strike a loving balance between enabling that independence and getting everything done when you’re jolly busy – as I am, coping with all this at home as well as working full-time.

It’s not unlike looking after a small child – the one who says brightly “Can I help?” when you’re in the middle of something and you say “yes” to humour the child but it would be much quicker to do it solo. When I change the sheets on our very large bed, for instance – a Sunday morning routine – he invariably appears and starts “helping”. I then have to issue a continuous flow of instructions such as “Can you pull that hem straight please” and “Now tuck it in your side” as well as racing round the bed to show him when he doesn’t understand. I could finish it in half the time if I were just allowed to get on with it. But there’s MLO’s self-esteem to manage too. And, incidentally, I really never dreamed I’d be comparing him with a pre-school child when he’s still only 72.

I continue to do what I can to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s – this week in particular. I think I’ll give that show at Olympia a miss, though. Cosi Fan Tutte at Opera Holland Park and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Watermill, Newbury – both booked for MLO to come with me next month –  look like a lot more fun. Music and drama are probably a better way of keeping an ailing brain active than constantly thinking about your own illness.



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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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