Life Inside

26 February 2021

Quite a few of the inmates here will have a laugh, but it is both fascinating and at the same time sad how dementia can affect different people in different ways. For example there are times when an inmate might need gently enticing into trying to eat at least some food. Nothing is ever done to force them, but as with children a firm, kindly positive tone of voice can obtain the necessary result. We always have excellent food with varying choices, it is properly cooked too – well, just one time when the carrots were tougher than I could manage, but then I noticed my fellow inmates felt the same! The message was received, apologies were given and that hasn’t been a problem since. In fact the other day a couple of us were chatting about a Bernard Matthew’s Turkey advert on television from a good few years ago and I remembered a Mackeson advert: “It looks good, it tastes good and by golly it does you good!” After a while of being here and seeing the behaviour of some inmates, it got me wondering. I recalled my Godmother so many years ago changing from a bright, alert lady who was the local district nurse turn into someone whose memory was clearly going. One day I visited Aunty Helen when she was in a Care Home and she shouted at me, she told me to leave, as strangers weren’t allowed in. She did not recognise me at all and me being around thirteen years of age at the time, this upset me. My father told me a bit about this dementia and on Dad’s advice I went back a few days later to see this same lady. This time she saw me, recognised me and promptly scolded me for not going to see her very often! She had no memory of my visit a few days earlier. I see unusual behaviours where I am now, and it does not upset me, as I know it is what can happen.

So what is dementia? Apparently it can occur when the brain is damaged by disease. This can cause progressive impairments to memory, thinking, and behaviour which affect the ability to perform everyday activities. Other common symptoms include emotional problems, difficulties with language, and a decrease in motivation. It is not a consciousness disorder and this is not usually affected. Dementia can be recognised by a change from a person’s usual mental functioning, and a greater cognitive decline than that seen in normal ageing. Several diseases and injuries to the brain, such as a stroke, can give rise to dementia and this has a significant effect on the individual, relationships and their Carers. I learned this with my dear mother, as whilst she never ever had dementia, after her stroke it was difficult for her to make multiple choice decisions. Offer her a choice of A or B, that was no problem. Offer a choice of A, B or C etc and she could not decide. But Mum would rather go without than say anything. Yet her long-term memory was unaffected, so I guess it depends which part(s) of the brain are affected.

Something I have noticed and recalled from when I was young is that as we get older, most of us feel the cold more. Some do naturally, but for some folk like me, who are on blood-thinning medication, it can get a bit chilly when temperatures start dropping and stay low, along with a bit of a cold wind like we have had recently! A good friend of mine used to be part of a ground crew at an RAF station for many years, so he was used to working outdoors in all weathers. Even now, in the depths of winter, he has very little heating on in his house. It is what he’s used to. So any time I visit, I wear a warm jumper, whilst if he visits me he’s in a t-shirt! I generally worked in an office, where at that time heating had to be maintained to those laws in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963. I was soon informed by the local Health & Safety Officer that the office should be 60.8F (16C) when starting work and 65F (18C) after one hour. Yet I saw some of my  former colleagues still wearing coats when it was almost 70F (21C)… I don’t have a thermometer in this room, but I’m sitting here quite comfortably and with a window open to let fresh air in. I have been here a while now, so I am well used to the sound of the tea trolley, I recognise the voices of a few of the Carers and I have a bit of a laugh with them sometimes. I cannot go around as quickly as they can, so I move to one side for them to pass by me. At one time I could move that quickly, but I cannot do so now! There are things that we must all accept as age passes, but I say yet again how humbled and truly thankful I am to still be here to write this. I have more to learn yet and maybe more to share with you. To me, the most important thing to recognise is that we are all humans, no matter what our race, colour, creed, age or ability and we should always be treated as humans. This is especially true relating to how we are all having to deal with life right now, with little or no access to family or friends.

For me though, one thing which has and still is helping me with all that is occurring in this beautiful world is the relaxation therapy that I was taught a number of years ago and which is called Arka Dhyana. It involves finding a quiet place and a quiet time and sitting down in a comfortable position. Some folk can sit cross-legged on a floor mat to do this, but I must sit in a chair. It does not matter. I then breathe gently, easily and regularly, the deeper the better, placing a thumb and forefinger together on my chest as I do so, focussing my mind at that point. This allows the mind to clear and relax. To begin with this is done for a minute or two, continuing for longer periods of time according to what feels natural and comfortable. It is amazing how calm I feel afterwards, by just taking a few minutes to be calm, not thinking, not worrying, just breathing. There is more to this, involving a quiet sound, but in this Care Home I just sit quietly and hum the sound mentally. I do this both night and morning, as it sets me up for the day as well as calm me for sleep. During the day I do have a screensaver on my laptop computer, either of waves breaking on the sea shore, of the bubbles in a fish tank or of the crackling logs on a fire. The Carers here have said how peaceful the atmosphere is in my room and I like it that way. Reducing our stress whilst all these difficulties are going on helps us in so many ways both physically, mentally as well as spiritually. Right now we are spending much of our time inside, but in time we will get out and about more. We may need to be a little more careful, but that might be good for us all.

This week, a memory from years ago.
I was at a snooker hall some years ago and learning to play the game when another player saw that the replaceable tip on his cue had broken. Needing a new one so he could continue playing, in desperation he called out to us all there “Does anyone have any tips?” A friend of mine instantly replied, a bit cheekily, “Yes – chalk your cue before every shot!”

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