Ten years ago my dad had a stroke. It was a shock as he was only 62 at the time.
I was told it was a mild stroke by my parents and I took their word for it.
It turns out it wasn’t mild.
Early last year my mum expressed concern about my dad being forgetful but put it down to him getting older. As we all do. Eventually they went along to the doctors and he felt that this was a type of memory loss brought on by the stroke. My mum didn’t mention the “D” Word at the time, just told me at the time that it was a type of “memory loss” associated with words only – he was just forgetful about putting sentences together and the name for things. They were referred by their GP to a doctor who was trialing Alzheimer’s drugs on this type of “memory loss” but my mum told me they’d weighed up the options and decided that there were too many side effects and that Dad didn’t have “proper dementia” anyway.
Nothing much happened for nearly a year.
Then mum decided to return to the GP as dad was deteriorating. This time my mum actually used the word dementia and I took my blinkers off and googled “memory loss after stroke”. Vascular Dementia it said. The second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s. There are lots of forms of dementia apparently, each with slightly different symptoms but ultimately, so far as I can tell, the same (horrible) end game. I didn’t know that.
Even when I lived in Norwich, just 40 miles away from them, I couldn’t see them more often than once a week. You can’t do an 80 mile round trip to drop in on someone. So visiting was reserved for weekends. My mum is only 65, but suddenly became incapable of driving more than 10 miles locally to do shopping, point blank refusing to come to Norwich unless by train. Dad driving was too traumatic (and is now out of the question anyway). So that meant me going there when I could.
Things have deteriorated since I have moved down here. Although I of course don’t really understand how that manifests itself for my parents on a daily basis. However much I tell myself I would be no more use to my parents living in Norwich than I am here, a little voice regularly tells me that I am a selfish, bad daughter because I have made myself less available than I should have. My mum gets upset on the phone, I get upset and frustrated which makes me feel worse. There is nothing I can do to help. My brother lives in Melbourne and I know he feels the same, however clearly living in Melbourne is a little different to living in London.
My mum says they are “in the system now” and they have a care plan. They have a nurse visit them regularly to check that my dad’s medication is not causing ill effects (he has already changed from one type to another). They go to the “Stroke Club” every Friday although my mum can’t quite bring herself to leave my dad there alone yet. They are investigating respite care. I am trying to get them to downsize their house although I am told this can be bad for sufferers of dementia. But they don’t need the 4 bedrooms and the massive time-consuming (energy consuming) garden. I’ve tried to give my mum practical help. Mum says dad won’t do crosswords anymore (he used to complete the Telegraph one most days) and hates sudoku but he likes the triominoes that they have at the club and they’ve bought some of those. I wondered if there might be any useful apps he could have a go at on on his iPad -please let me know if you know of any. He is not at the stage where he relives his past or thinks my mum is someone else. I don’t even know for sure if that’s how vascular dementia manifests itself. “Memory loss” is such a catch all phrase. All we can do is wait and see. And hope the drugs work. Or help. Or whatever.
Sorry this isn’t my usual sort of post. After I spoke to mum tonight MrS and I took Smudge out for a long (wet) walk while he listened to me banging on about all of the above. When we got home I said “I don’t have a blog post for today”, instead of saying “oh it doesn’t matter, no one will mind” he said “Yes you do. Write what you’ve just told me. It’ll be cathartic.”
He was right. Don’t tell him though, he’ll think he can be right all the time in future.