Dementia is so complex

Lots going on, a year of changes, a year of perplexity.

You can read any amount of literature on Dementia, what it’s like to live with it, how do you know if you have dementia, what are the signs, but there is not one source of absolute certainty showing a list of traits of dementia that everyone living with these brain diseases with have together.  Not one.  Each person experiences something different, each person may have one trait, but not another.  So what is a typical experience of dementia?   It is important to know that there isn’t a typical experience.

Thing is, we need to put symptoms, traits, diagnoses into lists, tick boxed so that we can make sense of whether this person ticks all the boxes to say they have a definitive diagnosis of this type of dementia or that.  We expect the neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists to know how to make sense of what is happening to someone to say, yes you have X type of dementia.  They do their best with the knowledge that we have about the brain, which is relatively little.

Then who really understands the nature of how the brain works, or fail dramatically, or incrementally in the non academic world?  Sometimes we feel that because we know someone with Dementia we are an expert in ‘knowing’.  Perhaps it is because we know so little that is why we are so afraid of brain illnesses, we simply don’t understand what is going on and how to deal with it.

Remember when Cancer was a word that was spoken in hushed voices, if at all.  Way back then little was know and people died horrible deaths whilst surrounded by families tortured by the process.  Cancer.  There are treatments that cure now, there are treatments that enable someone to continue to live far longer lives.  We are not afraid to say the word or talk about it.  Dying is always hard, but now deaths are easier and can be be pain free.

Dementia.  Brain cells die through disease.  We think we know how but not why it happens, what starts it?  Why some people and not others?   Auntie Lizzie used to wander, but Iris never did.  What was the difference in the two people?   Auntie Lizzie born in the late 1800’s died in the early 60’s and had no real diagnosis..  Iris born in the 1930’s had vascular dementia and so it affected different parts of her brain and different functions.   Auntie Lizzie talked all sorts of nonsense, but Iris lost the ability to speak.  She was unable to tell those around her that she understood what people were saying about her, whereas Auntie Lizzie had little comprehension any more.  Iris was bedridden with the loss of mobility,  Auntie Lizzie used the wander the streets in her nightie.  Jack feeds seagulls and paints the most beautiful pictures, he goes to the pub on a Friday night on his own and meets his mates.  His behaviour can be inappropriate because he is unaware that you shouldn’t say some things out loud, or approach people/children you don’t know and interact if you’ve known them all your life.  His short term memory is non existent, and repeats himself over and over.   He has interesting stories of working down the coal pits, and as a welder on the oil rigs.  He is mid 50’s.  Sally lives with her husband and her two boys.  She is late 40’s.  She doesn’t handle money anymore because she doesn’t understand coins and counting.  She saw some long lost friends across the cafe and catches up with them like anyone would but then looks at the tea pot and the cup not sure what she is supposed to do and struggles with the order of how to pour a cup of tea.   She talks about holidays, politics, social activities happening in the town.  We laugh at how we can never remember each others names.

Then there is the marvellous Wendy Mitchell – Which Me Am I Today (blog) who has written a bookSomebody I Used To Know .   Wendy travels around the country talking about her life and educating how to live well with dementia.   How can she do that if she had dementia, some would say.

When you look at people living with Dementia it is easy to see how nobody appears to be the same – until the final stages of their life.   That’s it, that’s the reality of how people see dementia mostly.  The final stages.  ‘Oh my mother had dementia and it was awful, she never knew any of us, and just sat’.  ‘My father/husband got angry all the time for he had to go into a home, then he died’.  ‘She kept accusing me of stealing from her’.  ‘I lost my wife before she died, she slowly disappeared before my eyes’.

So you think you know what Dementia is because you know/knew/lived with someone who has/had it.   This is one person with one type out of the 150 so types of dementia, showing one or more out of a whole host of symptoms that may not be present in anyone else.  The combinations are endless.  Just as individuals have different personalities, so do dementias.

What I will say though is, becoming a Dementia Friends and Champion is something that all people should do, because even if it doesn’t explain all the dementias it does give an insight into how living with it can be.  Knowledge is the best form of action towards becoming prepared for the future, and inclusive in their own community.

Seven years on and my dementia is….what.  I don’t know.  Any different?  A little.  Progressed much?  not sure, a little.   People are questioning me; are you sure you have Alzheimer’s?   Do I have brain damage which is causing symptoms of dementia?  How does that make me feel?  Confused…totally and utterly confused.   New brain scans to come and then what………….

I became a Dementia Friends Champion

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Last week I attended a session to become a Dementia Friends Champion.  I guess there were around 15 of us from all walks of life and jobs but I was the only person living with Dementia.  Obviously when I go places it is not something I announce to the world and his wife, why would I?

Why was I there?   I’ve already accompanied others when they have delivered Dementia Friends Sessions to both adults and children in local schools as part of working towards becoming a Dementia Friendly Community, with the steering group Dementia Friendly Seaham.  So it seemed natural that I could start delivering them myself at some point.  Becoming a Dementia Champion you start by committing to delivering one session in the first four months, and that can be to just one person (family and friends) or to a group of people (etc workplace).

Getting back to the information day.  I am not sure how I felt at first, listening to the facilitator talk about ‘people living with dementia‘, as it felt like he wasn’t talking about me.  It is a very strange place to be, listening and ‘learning’ to read a script educating others about dementia.  I somehow felt detached emotionally from the whole event, even though inside I kept thinking “this is about me”.

The script is necessary because it is about facts, and gives standard information that is not  personal but really informative.  Every dementia friends session given around the country will be the same.  This is how information works best and Dementia Friends Sessions are so, so important to educate as many people as possible about how, individually, they can make a difference.   It is as simple as being aware of how a person living with dementia can see the world around them.  Example – Black door mats = holes in the floor, or difficulty counting money at a supermarket checkout slowing everyone up.   Those are just a couple of small examples.  For me the real bonus is about people just learning to have a bit of understanding about the many difficulties of living with dementia.

So, here I am in this Dementia Champion Session feeling somewhat disconnected from everyone around me, obviously this was just a person introspection of mine and not in anyway about the people I was with.   I think that sometimes I just wish I was one of those people learning about dementia and not living it.

Anyway, it was a good day and I came away with the confidence that I could do this, I also caught up with people I had met before with was lovely.

I am looking forward to delivering my first Dementia Friends Session following the script, and possibly at the end when I finally ask the people attending ‘what someone who is living with dementia looks like?’  I will say “me“.

Alzheimer’s and living

Sometimes, on a good day, I find it hard to believe I have Alzheimer’s.  I question whether I have ‘dementia’ as a symptom.

Of course it doesn’t last long the wonder and the doubt, because I looked at how confused I get at certain times, and the lack of memory intake of recent information amongst other things.

What I am understanding is how I can never be seen as totally ‘normal’ and I then think how can anyone want to be friends with me knowing that I am slightly broken?   I think I have always been a person who spends a lot of time alone, feels comfortable with my own company.  Sometimes that can be a sort of a silent world, when I have no radio, tv or music on.  The silence feels okay and I don’t feel lonely, but I do worry that it is my way of retreating from a world that I have always felt not quite at home in.  That is of course, the dyspraxic part of me speaking, but it has an impact on how my Alzheimer’s is.

When my ability to be coherent and indeed, sensible in my thoughts, ideas and speech shines it is difficult to see any brain disease.  But, I know it’s there.   I know my vision is currently a problem.  Patterns are beginning to dazzle, confuse and mislead me into being cautious of levels of flooring.  Steps where there are no steps in changes of colours, missing steps where there are steps because of the lack of contrast.  This is all new for me, and quite I feel quite shocked by it.  How can I mentally feel so alert and normal still and be affected by these Alzheimer’s symptoms at the same time.  I am grateful that my progress is still slow and is more physical than mental.  I am fascinated by all this and would love to be able to have an MRI or scan or something that I can look at and see exactly what parts of my brain have ‘holes’ now.  I loved the neuroscience part of my Psychology degree and if I had the energy I would really like to read current thinking on it!

I have been reading books again which is good.  I took my kindle on holiday to Cuba, yes Cuba! and read about 6 books, lying in the shade on the beach in over 30 degrees heat!

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Going through airport check in can be a problem now as they try and hurry you but I can’t be hurried anymore, the more they chivy me along the more flustered I get.  I should have learnt the word for dementia in Spanish before I went!  Booking assistance is a bit hit and miss and not really available/understood in some countries.  However, I love travelling still and don’t want to stop until I physically have too.

I loved Cuba and its people who have been shielded from a totally consumer driven lifestyle.   They are friendly and if they stop to talk to you in the streets, they are not trying to sell you anything, they just want to chat.  The county is lovely but like stepping back in time in parts with oxen ploughing fields, although there are tractors too.  Cubans are proud of their country and who they are and I feel deservedly so.  Their political history fascinates me and I realise that I hardly knew anything about it other than the words: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, revolution and Communism, and that says very little.  We had a private taxi and a guide who was so knowledgeable and spoke with an Eton accent!  He laughed telling us he had no idea how when learning English in school he managed to get his posh accent!  Us British are so embarrassingly poor at learning languages, why the heck don’t we take pride in pushing languages in schools?

Being in Cuba did not present a problem for me at all, I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone, I didn’t need to.  I think the simplicity of these countries do not have visual difficulties of shiny floors, fancy patterns etc.  To my mind we have become like magpies obsessively attracted to a complicated shiny world.  Bring back simplicity in architecture, and design both inside and out I say!

I can still travel the world making memories of being in these places that sticks in my mind and live well with the brain disease Alzheimer’s.

 

 

 

Dementia Friendly Communities

Been just as busy February as January.   Last week I spoke at the launch of Blackhall and Hesleden Dementia Friendly Community.   Since our own launch of Dementia Friendly Seaham things have been moving along nicely.   But boy, these things take work, and time and commitment.

What does it mean to launch a dementia friendly community?   Look around your own community and see if there are any stickers on shop doors that indicate that staff have taken part in Dementia Friends Sessions.  How many do you see?   The large supermarket, does that have a dementia/disability friendly slow checkout lane?   What about cafes?  Your local library, council offices, your GP Surgeries?  What sort of groups are available; support for carers, peer groups, and activities, are in your local area?  Where do you think you would find out information telling you what there is?

Out of all of the members of our working group there are, effectively, only two of us doing anything.  Working groups, should be that, not just meetings where we discuss and others ‘do’.     However, there will always be people to want to make a difference and do put their time into making a change.  Equally there will be people who can network locally which is just as important.

My talks are becoming slightly more hard hitting, so that I am prepared to say that I am still waiting to meet more people like myself in my area.  Where are the people living with dementia I ask?  Why am I the only person able to speak at these events.  Reaching people in your own community living with dementia is not easy when you have no provision in place to sign post after diagnosis to support that does not yet exist.

My area with the aid of the Alzheimer’s Society have made wonderful strides towards looking at how we can be more inclusive to all.  There are a core of people that I meet at these events who are fabulous and work extremely hard at promoting change.   What I would now like to see is the general public supporting us.   I am touched when people come to speak to me at events telling me how brave I am to speak out, but I don’t feel brave, I am not brave.  I just have a desire to make things better for myself, and for the other people living with dementia in my area.  I just want to be able to have the choice of different groups I can attend or get involved with.  I don’t want to be sitting at home whilst my Alzheimer’s progresses and have no art group to go to, or anything similar.

When I am at home I am scared.  I feel dread at having to think and write a talk for the next event.  Maybe this is my dementia making me shrink back in stepping forward.  Part of me longs for someone else to take over but then I know I will never be able to step back and not get involved.   There is a wonderful core of people who are working hard, but I want to be a voice for dementia because I live with it, they don’t.

It is hard work for me to do these things on my own at home, the will is there but I have to admit to struggling to follow through sometimes.  I am finding that I can no longer organise things that need to be done ‘just like that’.

Days when my Fibromyalgia is flaring and I am wracked with pain making it harder, and now it is possible that I also have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which is pants quite frankly!  I have to pace myself so that I can do one major thing per week with the Alzheimer’s Society, attend Art Group, my Knit n Natter group, then sleep the rest of the week.

I find it harder to get things sorted out at home these days, the small damp patch that needs doing before the walls can be painted, and the skimming of the ceiling too.    I need to find someone to help me dig the garden over, re-fence…….   Why can’t I just do these things?  I don’t know why, all I know is that I feel scared to do any of it.  It doesn’t make sense.  Once I have forced myself to do it I am relieved.  It almost feels phobic.   How I wish I had someone who could actually sit and do these things for me, or with me.  I am understanding that it may be time to de-clutter massively ready for when I progress.  Time to get a cleaner to help me keep my home clean and tidy.

In the meantime I will continue amidst the constant exhaustion, to give a voice for dementia when I can.26992176_1933561930010577_3170965173589389220_n

 

 

 

 

 

Dementia: a disability?

I have recently seen a question that asks if you consider yourself being disabled living with dementia.   I think this is a really interesting question.

One of the meanings as in the English Oxford dictionary is:

Disabled:  1(of a person) having a physical or mental condition that limits their movements, senses, or activitieshashtag person not disability

Do I consider myself having a disability?  Yes I do have a disability because I am now limited but not restricted in what I do.  But the whole question of whether living with dementia is a disability is another question all together.  Some would argue no, because it is a life limiting disease not a lifelong disease, but even that argument does not stand up, because there are other diseases such as MS (Multiple Sclerosis), or Anxiety and Depression that can be equally life limiting.

I think the difficulties lay with getting a diagnosis in the first place.  Do you have a disability only when you have a diagnosis?   It would seem so.  Which brings me back to Dementia.  Speaking for myself, I consider it to be a disability because I can no longer carry out my everyday life in the way I used to, mainly because my mental capacity to organise things is diminishing.   Physically my body is not working like it should either as the signals and messages from my brain are getting more foggy.   Mentally, I can go into a ‘meltdown’ where I need to shut down in peace and quiet, alone, when things get too much to process.   So yes, I would consider myself to have a disability.

 

As I have said before I have two disabilities, but Dementia can mean the other is overlooked.  Fibromyalgia for me means living with constant pain restricting my physical abilities.  During a ‘flare up’  the pain and exhaustion is so intense throughout my body that I do very little other than sleep.  Fibro ‘fog’ melds with dementia to shut me down for a week or however long it is.   However, I may not tell anyone around me that I am in more pain than usual because I live with it dailyinvisible_disability_stickers-r449f8209b2e24f9e99cbbfda6d03ece2_v9i40_8byvr_324

Does this stop me doing things?   It slows me down certainly, but you can adjust your life to cope with it as much as you can.  Disability is a noun and identifies what hinders me, but does not stop me.

Disability is a word to bear in mind only, for each and every person has their own abilities or disabilities.

As per usual, these are my views alone and are not necessarily definitive information.

Diary thoughts with dementia

Sometime life feels like it’s in limbo.  Waiting for something.  Thinking I should always be active and not sitting alone quietly sewing or enjoying a film on TV.   Waiting for time..to what..pass?  I don’t know, maybe this is just how dementia feels like?    Does it feel unhappy?  Nope.  It just is how it is.

Sometimes when I have a diary full of meetings, and events, I just roll with whatever that day brings without feeling I have had any input into organising it but have simply turned up and been a small part of it.    A big hand that fills my diary and hands it back to me smiling.  “This.  This is how you will fill your time in a pleasant and meaningful manner“.  I smile as I take the diary and look with curiosity to see what pleasures I have for the coming week.

Then there is the ‘To Do’ lists I have written down on the righthand page of my Moleskine Diary.   This, however, gives me a hidden creeping fear, no not fear; anxiety, yes that’s it. Anxiety.  I have agreed to do this thing, and now I am scared that I cannot carry it out or finish it, or even start it.  Always in my head ‘I can do that’ , until the time comes to start it and then the dementia reality sets in.  The hesitation of indecision, the confusion of my own instructions where everything falls apart.  Followed by the quiet talking to myself – “I can do this, step by step.  Don’t overthink it“.  Then I when I finally start I am more confident to say whether I can do it, or whether to say I tried but it is now beyond my capabilities.   Admitting when you can no longer do things can free you up to do more of the things that you CAN do.

So, in reality I have a mixture of a Diary life, and my chill out self preservation life.  I attend meetings, give talks about my dementia, am part of a group working towards making my local town dementia friendly.  Then I have my withdrawal from the world life where I stay at home, alone, enjoying my own company, doing a bit of housework, and a bit of craftwork.  But, I also have my craft workshops for dementia in my diary that I attend and love because it gives me inspiration, gives me a place to be with other inspiring people living with dementia.