“I feel like something at the bottom of a woman’s handbag”

Saturday – 28th June 2014 – Alzheimer’s Meeting

I was invited to a meeting to form a pilot scheme for younger people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It was quite a way to drive and we got to a place which was in fact in a building in a Chemical Company which supports the charity Alzheimer’s Organisation; their conservatory which is on the side of a very nice cafe/restaurant.

There were workers from the Alzheimer’s Organisation from three different surrounding areas in county and I got to talk to two of them. The are all enthusiastic and clearly caring people.  People arrived gradually until there was a good roomful of people living with dementia and their partners and carers. I initially talked to two of the staff full of enthusiasm and I passed a couple of flyers for Dementia Mentors website which they said they would look at. As others arrived they seemed to know each other I think from another group they attend. The conservatory had tables and chairs set out in a cafe setting and people came in and sat randomly around the room or in groups of friends. Because of how we were all sitting facing some with our backs towards others it was not conducive to chatting and getting to know anyone you didn’t know, which for us was everybody. No sooner everyone had arrived, we were told to split up into three groups and talk about what sort of group we wanted. The friends stayed where they were, others gravitated towards the far side of the room and hubby and I were asked if we would join the table behind us with just two people on because the guy had mobility problems. The guy I shall call Sid clearly had mid stage dementia and did not speak or appear to have awareness of what was going on. His partner on the other hand did not stop talking. We had a worker with us who was going to facilitate this discussion between the four of us.   (All names have been changed to protect peoples identity).

Phil the worker was enthusiastic and started throwing some ideas about for us to talk about and ‘Sally’, Sid’s partner started to talk about what she wanted from the group. I don’t want to see leaflets on tables, she said, I don’t want to hear anything about dementia, I want a social group where we can go out and enjoy ourselves. Right, that is perfectly clear. I am tired, she explained, of everyone talking about dementia, I want somewhere where that is not about illness at all.  (Actually Sally, I think you need a support group for carers and some respite care for Sid, I thought at the time).

I had up until this point given some ideas, discussing a newsletter, learning new things in their new life with dementia, such as photography, cooking, creative writing mini courses, days out doing group photography, walking etc. The more Sally talked the more puzzled I began feeling. Hang on, I thought we were here to talk about a group for people with dementia, at least that is what the conversation I had with the ALZ worker I had met after being diagnosed who said there was no support groups suitable for me. I could not assume that Sally was Sid’s carer and I had to know, so I asked her if she had dementia? No, she answered, I am with Sid. I had this sudden realisation that no-one had asked Sid what he wanted, so I asked him. With his progressive dementia he couldn’t really give an answer, he goes to another day care place and does a lot of memory activities with them, and seem to be confused about where he was as he was talking. He sat not speaking having difficulty holding his mug of tea, Sally telling him to put it on the table before he spilt it down himself. I could see my hubby watching and wondered what he was thinking. Sid did not appear to want to put the mug down, or do as he was being told. Sally was off again saying the things she wanted to do, and I spoke to Sid. ‘Only people with people who have dementia can understand what its like to live with it’ I said to him, and he nodded in agreement. I asked him about the day care he goes to and he tried to talk to me about it. He then said, probably the most important thing that was said in that room “I feel like I am something at the bottom of a woman’s handbag”. Do you mean being here I asked him pointing around, ‘No’ he answered. Ahh you mean all the time I put back to him understanding how he was feeling.

The more I listened to Phil and Sally talking, and hearing the animated voices around the room the more I realised my expectations were far too high and I was not enjoying the experience.

The discussion was over, time was up and it was time to go! Before I left I briefly spoke to a worker and said that I thought it was going to be about people living with dementia wanted, and was a little disappointed to hear so many carers saying what they wanted. “I guess it is about both” was the answer.

Okay, how this meeting made me feel:

  • Angry
  • Silenced
  • Invisible
  • Like being treated like a ‘patient’
  • Cheated
  • UPSET

I thought this was going to be about what we, the people with dementia wanted out of a group for support and social activities that we could do with others, and that includes partners and carers who understand that sometimes we say the wrong thing, behave in a way that may not be quite right.  It is right the partners should be there, but let all those who live with dementia, have their own voice, their own control, and their own place to keep their minds active, not something that is organised by everyone else.

How many websites, groups, and advise site both professional and amateur are there for carers. How many forums are for carers?  Many.  Why is this, it is because what do you think when you hear someone has dementia?  You think of an elderly person towards the end stage of the disease, not always knowing who family is, someone who has lost the understanding of what is happening around them, someone who may be shouting out and being difficult and finding it hard to communicate.

Well that is at the end stage, not the beginning, how do you know that you do not already have some kind of Alzheimer’s in the making? Give it a few years and when you know something is ‘not quite right’, something simple such as your visual perception not working right, not keeping up with work, you will be wondering whats wrong. If.. if that happens and you are in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s you will want people to treat you as they would want treating themselves, not to talk as if you no longer have a voice or part to play in the control over your own life.   Memory Loss is not loss of intelligence, get it?

I just want to finish saying:

I AM NOT INVISIBLE, I AM INTELLIGENT, I CAN STILL TALK TO YOU, UNDERSTAND YOU AND HAVE A DISCUSSION ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD.

Please don’t think that by helping our husbands or partners that it equates to giving support to me.

Thank you for listening if you got to the end of this.

Author: Gill

I read books and review them. Books are my escape. I have always loved books. I write a blog, I get involved where and when I can in things I feel that are important. I also have Alzheimer's Disease but it does not define who I am. I am in the early stages so you may not notice. So, I will tell you how it is.

2 thoughts on ““I feel like something at the bottom of a woman’s handbag””

  1. Eye-opening and insightful. Thanks for describing this frustrating experience. It sure has given me another dimension of awareness of the needs and desires of the person with dementia.

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    1. Thank you Diane. I am becoming more aware of the need to educate people that Dementia does not mean end-of-life stage. I shall be following this post up with a bit more explanation now that I have time to think more calmly about it.

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