On a recent trip to Melbourne I visited my beautiful father and spent some real quality time with him. His situation is not unlike many others in his age group. My father is living alone, because my mother is now in aged care. Mum has Frontal Lobe Dementia. A cruel and debilitating condition of the mind that affects speech, attention, emotion and more often than not the condition affects the relationships between everyone else around them.
Frontal Lobe Dementia means my mum loses the ability to control her bowels, bladder and other bodily functions like being able to walk, move with ease and now she can’t feed herself. I watch the affect this has on my dad, he patiently feeds my mum the soft foods, spoonful by spoonful, and mum looks up at him with glassy eyes. Sometimes I think she recognises him other times I know she is straining to register who he is.
Mum is laid up in a bed which we call, ‘The Princess Bed’. It’s a portable bed that looks kind of comfortable, can be wheeled around and also positioned fairly safely in any room or area in the centre. She is almost in the foetal position as her legs are bent over close to her upper body.
I can’t help but think that if my mum was left unattended she would have passed away several years back, however, mum does have care and help with everything that we mostly take for granted. She is alive because of the constant and loving care of the people at her aged care centre and the diligent visits from my father every day between 3.30pm and 5.30pm.
It’s a difficult thing to describe, watching someone revert backwards in body weight, intellect and ability. It’s sad and frustrating for those who watch this happen, and for me it’s a pot filled with emotions of guilt, anger, sadness and intermittent grief.
There’s guilt, because I haven’t been around mum as much in the early days. I remember I moved away from Victoria with my husband back in 1987, and left my mum in a male dominated environment, while I took off chasing the sunshine by moving up to North Queensland. I often wonder if that broke my mum’s heart, me moving away like that.
There’s relief, because I don’t have to be the one looking after mum, but then there’s guilt again because maybe I should be the one looking after mum instead of strangers in her place of care!
There’s deep pain, because I can’t fix mum; All can do is send essential oils to my father to apply to mum’s skin, and hope that he can keep that up. To dad’s credit he is doing the best he can with attending to mum when he visits each day.
I can’t have a conversation with my mum, where I get to hear her talk back to me. She lies on her Princess bed and stares beyond me, dreaming of a world I never knew, her world! It’s just the way it is, and I can’t help but think it could have been avoided.
I can’t help but think that we, my brothers and my father and I have been robbed of conversations and experiences with mum because of a cruel and pointless disease like dementia that delivers a painful blow to everyone who spends less than a few minutes with her. My mother is a woman who is between suspended thoughts and no longer able to tell us what she is thinking!
My mother was a sweet tooth. She always had a cup of tea with 1 sugar and usually with something sweet like a ‘vanilla slice’ or a biscuit, shortbread, piece of cake etc. These sweets were just full of sugar, white flour and fibreless. I have a theory that the sugar was one of the major culprits for putting my mother into this current state along with another triggers being stress or at least mum’s interpretation of events that were beyond her control.
One of the difficult things for me to accept was that mum never seemed to take my health food ideas seriously, or at least the concept of it, but her friends told me she was very proud of me. You want to know that your parents were, or still are, proud of you. Like many people in my mother’s age group, the medical way was seen to be the only way, and all this ‘alternative stuff’ for most people in my mum’s day, was just a little too farfetched. “Rubbish!” they would say, “how can a little sugar in my tea be an issue”?
We now witness the generation of people who have grown up on ‘a little sugar here and there’, too much gluten, environmental pollution, technology and also the processed food and inactivity. The big one is of course ‘Stress’ – the perception of what is going on around one! This has certainly, in my view, contributed towards the Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other types of mental illness.
So what’s the solution, is there a solution for such mental illnesses? Can we avoid brain decline?
I believe we can, and it starts with exercise, movement! When we exercise each day, we stimulate the body chemistry, creating endorphins and precious oxygen which brings nutrients into the body. A brisk walk, running and walking, skipping then stretching for 20 minutes or so can be one of the most significant contributions to keeping the blood pumping to the brain and aging gracefully!
I have introduced more essential fatty acids into my own diet using coconut oil, hemp oil, soaked almonds, avocado, soaked muesli, home grown bananas, seeds and greens. Broccoli, snow peas, rich colourful berries and delicious purple grapes. These foods are incredibly nutrient dense and they should be incorporated into the daily menu at the very least.
So the good news for me personally is my dad is listening to my advice, and he is enjoying more green drinks, using essential oils, and relishing in my vegetarian meals which he accepts graciously every time I visit and he shares the essential oils with mum.
It seems my dad is really honouring his marriage vow, ‘in sickness and in health’, and I’m pretty sure until ‘death do us part’. What an amazing man. This article is to honour them both.
Blessings, Annie Clark