My dad had dementia. One day he was packed and ready to leave…
Dementia is a cruel illness. Not only is the victim suffering, it leads to heart-ache and upset for the families looking after them. There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers set to rise to one million by 2025.
Some of the signs include problems with language, hallucinations and disorientation with relation to time and place.
My dad had dementia and now lives in a care home. But a couple of years ago we noticed changes in his behaviour. He was becoming withdrawn. There were periods of lucidity and other times when he was in a world of his own.
He was becoming more and more forgetful but then he began to collect things together every day. This is my account of what happened: My dad is packed and ready to go.
He is 94 and has dementia. Most days at around teatime he stands up and gets his belongings together in a couple of carrier bags, puts them at the side of his chair, sits back down, and waits to leave the house.
Some days, if my sister, brother or I drop by my parents’ house towards the end of the afternoon, he thinks they have come to give him a lift.
The collection of items he plans to take is in itself intriguing. As a bit of background, my dad could adapt or build anything, and regularly did. The double garage and workshop under the stairs are still packed with all manner of tools, machinery and gadgets.
The man who has never had a bank account has built two Minis from scratch – with a bit of help from a neighbour – and handed them over, one to my sister, one to me. But that is another story.
The things he collects reflect his busy past. A voltage tester, a plastic shoe horn, red elastic bands (the sort posties drop in the street), screws, screwdriver, Red Cross pen which doesn’t work, hearing aid batteries, a well-sharpened pencil, envelope with a single lens from some long forgotten spectacles and a bit of loose change.
And you know those sturdy white iPad boxes you look at and think ‘that might come in useful for something?’. Well my dad has found a use for his and some of the items go in that too.
So where is he going?
He has lived in the same house since 1952. But in his mind, which has another reality, his home is the one from his childhood in the inner-city area where he grew up. That is where he thinks he should be returning. The home when he was a boy. In 1933 he was 12, had a paper round and his mum gave him bread and jam for tea.
Back in his cosy living room at around teatime he gets slightly concerned when there are no moves to go. He often pulls out his shoes and puts them on. He gets slightly agitated and tells us if we are not going to give him a lift, he has to catch two buses to get there.
In his mind he is just visiting this house where he is sitting nice and warm and safe. This is the house where he has lived with his wife of 66 years, where he brought up three children and built the large patio over one long hot summer.
“Is my mum still alive?” he sometimes asks his wife sitting next to him. “No,” she says. “She passed away a long time ago.” She died in 1963.
These decades have been wiped out. His reality is different now and, boy, it takes a lot of getting used to.
We patiently tell him it is his mind playing tricks and he nods with acceptance when we tell him. He is far too polite to contradict us.
After he has gone to bed, one of us empties the iPad box and the carrier bags and puts everything back where it was.
Ready for the next day’s challenge and dad’s thoughts of “going home”.