It’s been an absolute age since I posted on Fickle at Fifty. And I’d like to ask my followers to forgive me. I guess nothing has really moved me enough recently to compel me to share a story. Until yesterday morning …
It’s 8am on Sunday and I’m confused. The door bell is ringing merrily – as if it’s someone I know – and eventually wakes me from my slumber. I fumble around for my spectacles but can’t locate them. Has one of the puppies hidden them again – or it is simply that I just can’t remember where I put them? I venture downstairs – both sight and mind a bit of a blur. Still in my PJ’s, I tentitively open the front door, not recognising the silhouette through the stained glass.
“Hello, it’s Pam” says a well dressed lady in her late 70s, walking stick in hand. I don’t know who she is or what she’s doing here. And tragically, nor does she.
We enter into a rather surreal conversation about why she rang the bell. She’s certain she’s a relative of my brother-in-law, or perhaps a friend of one of our neighbours, but can’t recall their name. She mentions that she’s walked for miles but now is on her way home. When I ask her where she lives, she reflects for a moment then replies that she doesn’t exactly know.
I’m still half asleep and she acknowledges my dazed state by insisting she trouble me no further and turns to leave. She says her car is parked around the corner and she’ll be fine. I notice she has no handbag and her hands are empty – no car keys in sight. But hold on, didn’t she say she’d walked here anyway?
I can’t let her go. Something tells me she’s fragile and I need to keep hold of her. Keep her safe. I invite her in, not really knowing what I am going to do next.
Then I notice a set of keys and a tag hanging around her neck. I ask if it’s ok to take a look at them and she takes them off and hands them to me.
The name “Pam” is typed on one side of the tag. I glance at the reverse. A sudden sadness engulfs me and my heart sinks down into my stomach. It reads “IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL JEREMY ON …”
If found? I stare at the words incredulous. What an unfortunate choice of expression to say the least. It’s the kind of terminology I’d put on my puppy’s ID tag, not on that of a human being suffering from dementia.
My husband, Steve, offer her tea, whilst I dial the number on the tag. She refuses politely, and they engage in a discussion about who Jeremy might be. At one point she says it’s her son who lives near by. Then changes her mind and suggests that it’s that type of person, you know, what is it, what’s it called? Oh yes, a brother. Yes he’s her brother.
Jeremy doesn’t answer the phone immediately so I leave a message. I dial again to make sure he has another opportunity to hear his ringtone. A short while later, Jeremy calls back and speaks to my husband. He confirms he is indeed Pam’s son and that she doesn’t drive or have a car. She lives just round the corner from us. Tellingly, he asked if she was found wearing her night dress or if she was fully clothed? Jeremy explains that he is away for the weekend, unfortunately miles away, and asks if we might escort her home. If it’s not convenient, he’ll call her care worker who will then ask the police to pick her up and take her home. It’s something they’ve done for her before.
It’s now 8.35 and I’m fully awake, but still overwhelmed by what I’d read on the name tag. I hear Steve tell Jeremy that we will walk her home, so I head on upstairs to get dressed. I’m glad we are going to do this for her. I feel like we should see this through. I don’t think we’d be able to forgive ourselves if we simply handed her over to complete strangers in uniform. A niggle also tells me that I want to see her house, see the state it’s in, check she has the essentials … just for peace of mind.
Whilst I am upstairs, I hear Steve tell Pam that Jeremy is her son. “Oh … right” she accepts, not quite sure we are being totally honest with her. Steve engages in more casual conversation, not that it makes much sense. Pam still insists that she’ll drive home now and needs to find her car. Her 4 children all still live with her and she’ll be fine once she gets there. Sadly we know there are no children waiting to care for her on her return. Just a care worker who calls on her twice a day.
Steve notices Pam is wearing a bracelet with a red button on it. She says she doesn’t know what it does. He’s seen these before and explains it’a panic or emergency device that she can use to notify her care worker or family if she’s had an accident and can’t reach a phone. Not terribly helpful, I hear myself muttering despondently from upstairs, if the wearer forgets what it’s there for!
We eventually help Pam out of the sofa and walk her outside. She stumbles on the steps so we support her on either side. Infuriatingly, she insists on till going to find her car, and wants to walk in the opposite direction to her house. We humor her for a moment or two, simply to show her that there are no cars parked on the main road where she claims she left her vehicle. She appears genuinely concerned and confused by this as she is certain that’s where it was parked not more than an hour ago.
And then, through coincidence or serendipity (I’d like to believe the latter), a car pulls up immediately alongside us.
“Well hello Pam” says the cheery driver dressed in a carer’s uniform. “What are you doing out here this early?” We explain what’s happened and the care worker tells us that Pam is one of her clients and that she’ll take it from here. She makes a call on her mobile and we are heartened to hear her having a conversation with Jeremy. We felt, understandably, uncomfortable about handing Pam over at first, but the phone call reassured us. Pam continues to insistent on finding her car, and the care worker agrees to go and look for it once they have both had a nice cup of coffee at Pam’s. Reluctantly, Pam is helped into the front passenger seat and awkwardly holds onto the seat belt, not quite sure what to do with it.
We watch, still baffled by the fortuitous appearance of this care worker, as the drives on down the road and takes a right into Pam’s road.
I’ve previously dealt with my own, relatively minor, memory loss in a humorous manner with a lighthearted post about my lost rings. Today I could have written about this encounter in a similar vein, focusing on the absurdity and comical nature of the conversations we had with Pam. But that would have been disrespectful to all those suffering with dementia.
Curiously, it’s actually Dementia Awareness Week – so I’ve decided to donate £1 to The Alzheimer’s Society on behalf of every new like of this post and new follower of this blog.
I’m trying to persuade a friend of mine (you know who you are!) to let me have the link to an endearing short story she has penned about a lady with dementia. It’s sensitively written and well worth a read. Much of it resonates with my own real-life experience yesterday. I’ll post a link to it if I can later!
Here are some facts on dementia taken from The Alzheimer’s Society website.
- By 2015 there will be 850,000 people with dementia in the UK.
- There are 40,000 younger people with dementia in the UK.
- Two thirds of people with dementia are women.
- Family carers of people with dementia save the UK £11 billion a year.
- 80 per cent of people living in care homes have a form of dementia or severe memory problems.
- Two thirds of people with dementia live in the community while one third live in a care home.
- 60,000 deaths a year are directly attributable to dementia.
Why don’t you join me and #DoSomethingNew for Dementia Awareness Week?