Saturday, 7 August 2010

The lights are on...

I spent yesterday evening in front of the telly. A welcome change from all the plans I usually make every night.

On a recommendation from Ray, I watched a new comedy by the name of Getting On. A dark sitcom starring Jo Brand and set in an NHS dementia ward. Some parts did make me laugh out loud, but I also felt a deep sadness and an awareness that as our population ages, this illness will become a part of many more of our daily lives. Back in April, in the run up to the General Election, each of the televised leaders’ debates included questions about respite for carers, highlighting that this is an area of growing national interest. Indeed, I read yesterday that 1 million people are expected to have the condition by 2025 and researchers are suggesting a focus on reducing diabetes and depression in earlier life as well as an increase in exercise and the amount of fruit and veg eaten as a way of avoiding the disease later on.

Dementia is a strange illness in that those who suffer most are not the patient but the carers. I may get angry at my Dad for the abrupt way he sometimes addresses my Grandma but she is essentially fairly content, while it’s him and Sue who have to take care of her, clean up after her, patiently listen while she tells them stories for the umpteenth time, find her teeth each morning and most heartbreaking of all, see her face drop when they have to tell that the person she is waiting to arrive at the house is long since passed.

Grandma spent the day yesterday baking fairy cakes with my sister (hope they’ve left some for me) and for the next few days, I’ll do my best to entertain her with stories and photos of camping, of work, of gardening, of weddings I’ve been to, of all the sorts of things Grandparents like to hear, although she is far from aware that I am her Granddaughter meaning I have had to revert to calling her Grandma at the end of every sentence in an attempt to remind her.

And we like to hear her stories. She often tells me of the days she and her sister spent in Brighton as children, living opposite St Nicolas’ Church, where my good friends Birgit and Ben were married last month. And when Auntie Peggy was here to visit a few weeks ago, it was a delight to see the mischievous twinkle in their eyes as they told me the story of getting in trouble as adults for taking photos in the Royal Pavilion which was strictly forbidden at the time.

One of the patients in Getting On spent most of the episode shouting to the nurses in a foreign language and eventually a translator was able to interpret her words; “I hate my life and I want to die”. It was an uncomfortably funny moment in the show, when you know you shouldn’t laugh but are caught off guard and a guffaw slips out. I just hope that that’s not the case for most dementia sufferers and that they are surrounded or at least visited frequently by people that love them or can care for them sufficiently. And I hope most of them are comfortable like my Grandma seems to be.

And most importantly for those of us that love her, I hope that my Grandma really is content and doesn’t realise the extent of the illness that is causing her mind to deteriorate further with every passing day.

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