Initially, I was probably in denial that my mother was beginning to show some early signs of dementia, mainly putting down such forgetfulness and occasional strange behaviour as a natural part of the aging process. I expect such a response might be quite common. However, by 2002 it became increasingly obvious that there was a problem and even without a diagnosis, I began to accept that my mother might be another victim of this debilitating illness.
The decline was quite gradual and in the first year or two, I just found that I had to spend a bit more time helping her with shopping and a few household chores. At this stage I would hardly have called myself a ‘carer’ – it just seemed that I had to spend a little more time with her than usual. She was still reasonably independent and most of the skills that she had acquired over her lifetime remained unimpaired.
Nevertheless, by 2003 a little more intervention became necessary. Help with dressing and washing, although periodically at first, subsequently became the norm by 2004. Hallucinations and problems with recognition grew more frequent. Aware of her worsening situation, she did become frustrated and angry at times.
Despite her declining cognitive skills, physically there were no signs of deterioration. If anything, she couldn’t have been in better shape. Her restlessness, probably caused by the ‘unlearning’ process which was reducing the number of tasks that she could perform independently, meant I had to look for other outlets for her abundant energy. Each day we went out for numerous walks, mostly by the river. She was able to continue cycling until 2005 and enjoyed dancing, but before the end of the year she reverted back to speaking Italian. As well as preparing her meals, I needed to provide her more and more help with feeding, as she was losing the ability to use cutlery. The TV remained a source of entertainment but where possible I tried to take her out on interesting trips. Bravely, or perhaps foolishly, I yielded to her requests to go on a holiday to Italy. And so, at the age of 80 and with mum in the latter stages of dementia, we embarked on what turned out to be a stressful but very eventful adventure.
It was only in the year of 2007 that dementia finally caught up with her physically. Problems of incontinence, as well as bouts of constipation, were followed by anaemia. When she became bed-bound, I managed to nurse her at home, along with help from my sister and some carers, before she finally succumbed to pneumonia.
I end with a quote expressing a positive sentiment from the final paragraph of my book, Dementia and Mum – Who Really Cares? ‘Whilst embracing such an onerous responsibility was difficult, there was a huge reward.
For me, bereavement only started after her death – never while she was alive.’
For more details about Michael’s book and his experience caring for Renza, visit michaelfassio.co.uk.Last modified: December 29, 2020