by Simone Delochan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anton Pollard, 51, has been the caretaker of his 79-year-old mother, for the past four years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011 at a health-care facility in Boston during what was supposed to be a normal vacation.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, there are 156,000 people over the age of 60 who are currently living with Alzheimer’s dementia in Trinidad and Tobago, and one new case emerges globally every 3.2 seconds. Not every one of these will be diagnosed.
During the course of the interview at the offices of CAMSEL, the main issue of lack of support, both professionally and emotionally, was highlighted, and it is a story that is likely repeated throughout households across Trinidad and Tobago. It is a struggle of great proportion for families in a society that generally does not value its elderly, and in which there is a degree of invisibility for the person suffering from dementia.
Early symptoms and daily care
Before his mom was diagnosed, Pollard said they noticed apparent but unimportant things: “We always knew she had a little thing here and there. It wasn’t anything we considered to be major. Forgetting here and there like everybody…” Memory loss is one of ten symptoms of the onset of dementia (see Dementia symptoms).
It was only, however, when he moved into the home to take care of her that he realised how bad it was, even as Glenda sought to maintain her autonomy. “…my mother is a person who doesn’t like to give the impression that she forgets. So, if you tell her for example, ‘you left a cup here’, she would say, ‘something wrong with you. I don’t even remember using that cup in the first place’. This is when it started to get worse.”
“…She would eat and then forget that she just ate and would want to eat again. She would physically feel hungry but can’t eat because she just ate…She wouldn’t remember when last she would have taken a shower. To her, she just had a bath…there’s a challenge to get her to take a bath for the day because she would say, ‘yes, I already bathed’ and she would fight you down.”
The overall experience he describes as “not easy” because his mother can be stubborn but he respects the position that she is in. She still sees herself as the matriarch of the family, “She is accustomed to being independent. So, if you are telling me to do something now, I am accustomed to telling you what to do…who are you to tell me what to do now? That’s really where the challenge is right there. Sometimes you can hit a brick wall.”
To tackle her increasing forgetfulness and ‘strong-headedness’, Pollard utilises several techniques. The first, his “secret weapon” is play. “What I have learned to do with her is play, plenty play. The reason being is if I am too forceful, she gets aggressive…and then it gets harder, because she feels as though she is being treated like an infant… So if, for example, I want to get her to bathe, I’ll go and kiss her up. Then I’ll tell her, ‘You should go and bathe now because you don’t know where that mouth has been.’ Then she’ll laugh and say, ‘Is true!’ and go off.
“I try to put myself in her position to figure out how does she feel having things done for her. And maybe that makes it a little easier for me, too. I play, so there is laughter along the way, and it is not rigorous. For her, it wouldn’t be as torturous.”
He realised that repetition and involvement also helps to keep things balanced. “In the case of my mom, she remembers anything that is repetitive. Part of what I do is that I try to get her involved, so she is part of it…I slowly introduce inclusion, instead of sit and take instruction. It doesn’t always work fast, but it gets the job done. If we know we have to go out for ten, I will start about eight, eight thirty because I know there will be some lulls in between.”
CONCLUSION NEXT WEEK: Professional support