Six years ago a nice elderly couple moved into our tower block opposite our flat. I was quite pleased as it meant we would probably have neighbours who wouldn’t cause any nuisance, with loud music or have weird young yobs as friends visiting our fifth floor landing. For the first three or four years that nice old couple kept themselves to themselves, coming and going as people do. Later, their adult son moved in with them, as the couple were experiencing difficulties with their day to day living. His mother wasn’t so mobile, or astute as she used to be. Her husband was showing serious signs of mental problems. Forgetfulness, and confusion were apparent, in his behaviour. Then he started drawing large amounts of money from their account and couldn’t recall what he had done with the cash.
Mum took to using a wheelchair, pushed by her son, whilst his father opted to go for long walks by himself. He was fine except he couldn’t always remember where he was or where he started from. A number of times his son had to go and collect him from various police stations. There were other occasions when his dad started trying to enter the flats above and below his, simply because he was so confused, having forgotten where he lived. The son and his mother began to get exasperated, when neighbours knocked at their door returning him, to his home. Over time, exasperation turned to resentment. He became despised and resented by both his wife and son. In turn they became strangers who he discovered in his home.
“He’s the daft old bugger” his family called him. “They have buggered off somewhere” he would complain, “don’t know where they have gone and I don’t care if they don’t come back”. Things have gotten so bad now that recently they left him alone and he decided he’d make himself a cup of tea. He filled the kettle alright, but then forgot to boil the water and worse forgot to turn off the tap at the sink. He then went to bed as he thought he’d been up for hours. As a consequence all the flats below his were flooded with water pouring through their ceilings. When his wife and son returned from their short shopping trip, they were livid to discover a flooded kitchen.
“This is the last straw” the son told me, “tomorrow I’m putting that daft old bugger, in the care of Social Service’s I can’t take it anymore, it’s like living with a zombie, everything I tell him goes in one ear and out of the other. I’m fearful that he will really hurt himself or others by his stupidity”. I thought that was harsh, but understandable. The son had moved from his own home, to come and live with his parents again whilst they were facing such profound problems. He was at the end of his tether and might even attack or hurt his own father, who, couldn’t was suffering from a horrific illness. He took his dad to the doctors, and explained how difficult it had all become and he wanted a test to find out how bad his father really was. The doctor drew a circular clock face on a piece of paper and asked the dad to draw to hands on the paper clock face, to show the clock as a quarter to eleven. However, instead of drawing roughly two lines on the paper, the dad drew his own version of two winged butterflies or angels.
The true suffering Alzheimer’s can cause to individuals and their families it is horrific and there aren’t any easy solutions. Social Services do deal with it by using care homes. But that is a massive problem. On the one hand the people are in a place of safety and their relatives aren’t on tenterhooks all the time but those with Alzheimer’s are totally confused and lost. Tough decisions have to be made for everyone’s sake.