Dorset and the Dementia Journey


Those of you who have been visiting the Attic over the years will know all about my regular visits down to Dorset. Ever since the Little People were babes (and even before then), J and I used to drive the 300 miles south to the Dorset coast twice a year during the Easter and Summer holidays to visit my parents. As I grew up and went to school there, I have an understandably strong nostalgic connection with the town where I lived. But aside from me taking these personal jaunts down the memory lane of my childhood, our visits also allowed precious time for the Little’s to visit and connect with their grandparents. 


My Mum and Dad separated and divorced shortly after I left home to go to art school (35 years ago), and in the following years they both settled with new partners although neither of them remarried. My Dad stayed living in the rented house where I grew up, and my Mum moved to a nearby village a few miles away, so during our Dorset visits we were able to spend time with both of my parents and their partners. Sadly my Mum died unexpectedly in 2017, but we continued our tradition of yearly visits to my Dad. Our last family visit was in the summer of 2021 – by this time the two eldest offspring were both working summer jobs and couldn’t take time off to come away on holiday so it was just myself, J and a rather grumpy eleven year old Little B who went. 


At that time, we knew that something really wasn’t right with my Dad – we first noticed that his memory and cognitive functioning was suddenly very awry in the Spring of 2021, although he seems to have remained blissfully unaware of it. To this day he still claims to be “fine and normal”  – we’ve managed twice to get him to see his GP, but even when he spectacularly failed the standard memory testing questions and it was suggested he needed to be referred to a memory clinic, he simply and forcefully said NO, there was nothing wrong, and for everyone to leave him alone and stop interfering. It’s beyond frustrating, but like the GP said, he has free will and we absolutely can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. 


So although we haven’t had any formal diagnosis of dementia, there is no doubt that he has some form of the disease. I would say that his decline has been slow but steady over the past two years, and mostly he seems fairly content within his new altered reality. Aside from the memory loss, his general behaviour has also changed considerably – he is now very restless, isn’t able to concentrate for very long (he used to read a lot but can’t really manage that now), and has very disturbed and wakeful nights. He also has delusions which to him must seem very real and rather frightening at times (people coming in the house and stealing his possessions being the most common theme), and this is probably the hardest thing for him to cope with at the moment. 


As you would expect, his general memory is also completely shot to bits, and I noticed that during my last two visits he didn’t really know who I was any more. He can remember my name, and it’s obvious that he recognises me as someone he knows well and is always happy to see, but he can no longer grasp that we’re related. He thinks his daughter Lucy stays in Skipton, and the Lucy that comes to Dorset is just a lady visiting. He often asks me how long I’ve known him for, and marvels at the fact that I crochet just like his daughter does – do I know her, she lives in Skipton? Honestly, I learnt very quickly to squash down the heart breaking sadness of it all and not contradict him – now I simply chat about myself in the third person, which has it’s own kind of twisted comedy.


The biggest blessing in all of this chaos is Lady B – that’s what I call her although she isn’t an officially titled Lady – and thank goodness for her. She is my Dad’s partner of twenty three years, well, they call themselves “companions” I think rather than partners, but she is an absolute gem. Throughout their time together they’ve always kept their independence and lived in their own respective homes. They’ve had a solid routine for all these years, choosing to spend around half the week together at Lady B’s place, and half of the week apart doing their own thing. Although it’s unconventional, it’s worked well for them, and they are sweetly very attached to each other.


These days, Lady B is his carer as well as a companion and I know full well that this is no easy task. My Dad now sleeps at his house every day because the movement between the two households was causing no end of confusion, chaos and sleep disruption. Lady B visits him each morning to make his breakfast and give him his tablets, and to make sure that all is well in the house. She then takes him out – sometimes shopping, sometimes out for a walk, or a stop at his favourite pub for a tipple. They then spend a little time at her place which he does seem to really like, she has a huuuuuge television screen and his current obsession is Michael Portillo’s Railway Journeys. She cooks dinner for them both at her place, then in the early evening she takes him back to his house and settles him for the night (making sure there are no strange people coming in and stealing things ;)), and then she can breathe a sigh of relief as she goes home to decompress.


I do understand that this current  arrangement can only be temporary, it’s not in any way sustainable. Pretty soon we will need to plan for some extra care or respite for my Dad so that Lady B isn’t on call seven days a week. Because it really is utterly exhausting being in his company. I’ve been trying to help by visiting every other month, staying for a week at a time so that Lady B can take a proper break (she travels to London to stay with her daughter). I also ring my Dad every morning to chat about the plans for the day and talk through any worries he has as there is always something – usually his missing ‘stolen’ items, or the fact that he forgets where Lady B is.


So. My goodness… know, I wasn’t intending to talk to you about very much of this in detail, but once I started writing, it seems as if I really needed to unload. It’s been a bit of a purge! And I do feel a smidge lighter for being able to write things out and document where we are at, thank you for that, I appreciate you reading and being dragged along with my family issues. Thank you xxx


This last stay was actually not so bad, and I was able to relax a bit more into the role of care-giver. The type of care needed at the moment is pretty easy really – shopping for food, cooking, making sure he has his medication, calming down any agitation or confusion (there was a fair bit of this) and setting a routine for the day. I found we both fared better if we were able to get out and about each day, although there were a couple of very wet rainy days where we just hunkered down in the house and watched trains (him) and crocheted (me).


Where he lives is roughly a mile out of the town centre, and although his walking is very shuffly and painfully slow, he is capable of doing the walk there and back if we rest on benches along the way and take it gently. I found that his mood was better and he slept better if he had this daily exercise (ohhhhh….reminding me so very much of life with a toddler!) and so we shuffled along these familiar streets as often as we could. Sometimes we’d end up in his favourite pub and sometimes in a café for coffee, and it was OK really, different to the relationship we used to have, but not so bad.


On one bright sunny morning I decided we would head to the sea, I was craving it so badly and was determined we would go. I ordered us a taxi which felt very posh and luxurious, and I can’t tell you how much joy was in my heart when I arrived and breathed in that fresh salty air. So, so so good for the soul.

We shuffled our way slowly around the harbour…


…to the west beach where there is a promenade with some benches and shelters to take a breather. I reaaaaally wanted to go down onto the beach, but didn’t feel like I could leave my Dad on his own as he does have a habit of wandering off in these kinds of situations. Can you imagine the monumental stress if that happened, crikey, it just wasn’t worth the risk.

So after a long gaze out to the horizon I decided the only thing that would ease my longing heart would be caffeine. And luckily there is a café right there on the seafront which is very busy, noisy and a little bit chaotic, but always warm and cosy, so that’s where we settled for a while.


My latté was delicious and even my Dad enjoyed his black coffee (with four sugars). Afterwards we felt revived enough to take a slow amble all along the promenade…


….walking right to the very end where there are gorgeous views along the coastline to Lyme Bay. I do so love this coastline and have walked all along those cliff paths many times over the years. I realised that I’m still getting used to these Dorset visits where I’m forced to take things at my Dad’s pace and have to slow everything right down to a dawdle. I also find the lack of freedom very difficult, it’s a real adjustment for me and I’ve not found it easy, but I’m trying really hard to accept this new way of doing things. 


I had to share the above photo with you, snapped outside a gift shop in West Bay. I love to see a bit of colourful crochet bringing a smile to the local community, and these Easter bunnies were lovely. Yarn bombed post boxes have become a real craze here in the UK in recent years and there are groups on Facebook which share images and resources. I love it, well of course I do! You’ll have to let me know if you’ve seen any around where you live, or better still if you’ve been involved in making any? I’d love to know more.


One thing which really did delight me when I was down in Dorset was being able to hunt down a couple packets of Moores Easter biscuits. Goodness I have such a crush on these biscuits and they really power the Nostalgia Train that I ride hard when I’m down in my old childhood place. They are a traditional treat to have at Easter and my Mum always bought them for us as children, and in later years for the Little People too. They are like a sweet shortbread biscuit with currents, cinnamon and mixed spice adding a unique Eastertime flavour…..oh, I do so love them. They are the perfect accompaniment to a mug of hot tea in the mid afternoon, and really cheered up some grey days for me.


I was in Dorset for a week in total this last time, and despite the obvious strains and worries that I’ve briefly touched upon in this post, I did really appreciate the quality time that I was able to spend with my Dad. The sad thing about dementia is that it’s a progressive disease and I’m hyper aware that week by week, month by month, my Dad’s health will slowly deteriorate. Living so far away means that I have to make a solid effort to plan regular visits, and I’m lucky that with J’s help I’m able to make it happen. It’ll be his 77th birthday in the middle of May so I’m going to go down again to celebrate with him, a shorter four night stay this time which I think will be just right.

I’m enjoying seeing Dorset through the different seasons, and I love that I can always take my crochet with me to ease my worries and make good use of my time away. During this last trip I made the above plate full – eighty one little golden circles, what do you think of that?! Believe it or not, this is the very beginning of a new blanket journey slowly starting out and I’m sooooooooo  excited about it. I’m still making some final colour adjustments but once I’ve made some more progress I’ll be sure to take you along and share the creative process.

Well…..thank you again for reading along, and for your overall loveliness in the comments section this week. This wasn’t quite the post I expected to write, but obviously my brain had other ideas and I do feel a lot better for dumping out my worries onto the keyboard. I know there are probably many of you who’ve had loved ones affected by dementia, so if you have any pearls of wisdom for me I’d love to hear. It really helps not to feel so alone with the worry of it all.






Source link

Written by murat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Attic24: Celebrating Seventy Seven

Woven Wheat Tote – Free Crochet Pattern on Moogly