Dementia. It is a hard thing. Local author Janet Wainscott has written a book called What are you doing here? Reflections on Dementia. She tells the story of her Mum’s dementia as it progresses over many years, and shares other people’s experiences too – at all stages, from those earliest incidents indicating something is wrong:
Later, D. and her brother found a kitchen cupboard where their mother has hidden a pile of wooden chopping boards marked with deep black circles from the bottom of overheated pots and pans. She’d obviously been having difficulty for some time, but had managed, just, to cover it up and hide the evidence.
This small book combines medical knowledge with observation. It is also beautifully written – in a support club, Janet sees The Press used as “reality orientation”:
The newspaper is normal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what you’re reading or you read it upside-down, because it’s familiar. Even people with no language will look at the newspaper and at the pictures.
There is such honesty in this book – toileting issues, guilt, the toughness of being a caregiver, and the pain of having to get your parent into a resthome. But they need to be talked about – What are you doing here? does it in a way we can all identify with.
By this time my mother didn’t know what a daughter was, or a mother.
A beautiful graphic novel called Tangles by Sarah Leavitt tells the story of her mum Midge, their family, and how Alzheimers came into their lives. First it just seemed like a bit of forgetfulness. But then Alzheimers began its mean attrition.
Sarah kept notes and drew pictures from the pre-diagnosis days, to her mother’s death, and beyond. The story she tells has the honesty of observation. Some details are hard to take, but are instantly recognisable to anyone who has had a loved one with Alzheimers.
It’s a bloody brave book and it broke my heart open like a fruit.
That’s what the slogan on the bus in front of me said. I felt a range of emotions:
First, I smiled – it’s the new “What if” advertising campaign for Canterbury University – and it’s clever.
Next, I felt despair about all the world languages that we have lost (one every 14 days on average according to an excellent article in the July 2012 National Geographic). Could a bus slogan have saved them?
Finally, resignation set in. After all, why not? There’s going to be a lot of old Kiwis soon and if we all spoke Te Reo and kept our marbles while we’re at it, how great would that be?
All that emotion and I was only half way to work.
This week is Māori Language Week, so it is a good time to do a bit of reckoning. I’ve lived here for 12 years now and I’ve just made a list of all the Māori words I know. It’s embarrassing – let’s just say that if you took the number 12, multiplied it by 3, found the square root of that and added 14 you’d be close (I’m hoping you will have given up long before you get there). Pathetic.
Everyone knows that being multilingual is hugely advantageous. Most of us also know that we have to keep active and keep learning as we get older. In fact, Alzheimer’s can be staved off if you do even one new thing every day. My new thing is to write with my left hand. Up till now my left arm has just hung there sporting a few bits of bling on its tips – it’s high time it came to the party. But left-hand writing is really hard. I can feel the right hemisphere of my brain screaming for mercy.
Then, as I overtook the bus and pulled into Shirley Library, it came to me. How about if I learnt Te Reo writing only with my left hand?
* Don’t know what Ehara mai means? You can find the answer on this page of basic phrases from Kōrero Māori.
Having just celebrated a birthday that is one short of a milestone, I can’t help but notice the proliferation of books on how to stop the aging process. My rational brain tells me that aging is fine, it’s part of life and I should embrace and welcome the wisdom that comes with old age, but my mirror tells me otherwise.