Alzheimer’s disease is so unkind

I knew this proud and harmless elderly couple. They’d been together for about 15 years. He is 75 and she, well, she looks younger. She could be in her 60s, I guess.

They were with each other 24/7 except for a couple of afternoons a week when she got a little bit of work done to top up their modest pension type income. During that work time she would ‘park him in a man crèche’ as she called it, a pub next to where she worked. She would leave him there and enough money behind the bar to pay for a couple of pints of Guinness whilst she worked for a few hours.

To be fair about them both, they did love a drink. Both of them. It’s who they were.

Liking to spend a lot of time drunk can hide a lot of things. In the case of the fella it hid his slow deterioration into Alzheimer’s disease.

When his partner realised he was deteriorating, and realising it was obviously a lot more than him just suffering from the drink, she sought help and after a few rounds of medical attention, he was diagnosed with the dementia.

From then onwards he just got progressively worse.

Eventually he had no idea who he was, who she was, or even how to dress or clean himself.

Eventually she couldn’t look after him on her own despite months of trying.

Eventually he had to go into a place where he could get 24/7 professional attention.

The poor lady had ‘lost’ the man she loved. She was devastated. Yes, she could and would go and sit with him each day, but he had no idea who she was.

Three things:

Firstly, it is extremely scary trying to imagine what it must be like ‘losing one’s mind’. I can only assume that the victim has no real knowledge of what’s going on. Is that a good thing? My brain is me, all of me, so if parts of my brain die, I am dying, even if the shell I inhabit is still fully functional. I can only assume that one just doesn’t realise. Very scary.

Secondly, I feel so very sorry for the lady concerned. She has watched the gradual death of the man she loved, even though his body is still functioning. That must be awful. Again, in a different way.

If you see somebody in bed weak from cancer, then it kind of makes more ‘sense’. The person you love, the person ‘inside’ remains the same as their body dies, eventually snuffing them out. They themselves can communicate with you during most of the process, they are still themselves.

But, when their body seems fine and their mind is dying, that’s a hard one to deal with. Very hard. You hang on thinking that the shell in front of you is still ‘them’, when really they are long gone. There is nobody there inside the shell to communicate with. You cling to the memory of when they were … alive.

Thirdly, and the thing I found most interesting yet scary, was the complete ignorance of others.

For quite a long time after he’d ‘lost his mind’, she’d still park him in the crèche and he would stand next to the bar just supping his beer. People would talk to him, and he’d respond by laughing, nodding, and shaking their hand or giving a thumbs up.

None of drinkers could tell that he was unwell, or, being brutal, one of the walking dead. When told after he was eventually too ill to be left ‘in the crèche’, that he was no longer there because he had Alzheimer’s, the fellow drinkers were surprised and started saying how they’d only been chatting to him ‘the other day’.

Er, no, they weren’t ‘chatting’. He was unable to ‘chat’. He hadn’t been able to ‘chat’ for many many months.

I think this shows how very shallow and irrelevant the communication between drinkers in a pub actually is. And, boy, it’s why I find pubs and the drinkers that infest them so ignorant, mind-numbingly boring and scary.