Steve Hynd writes about his family’s journey with dementia. Reposted with permission from Steve’s blog.
Yesterday was my mum’s funeral, the end of a long journey that started many years ago. Its initial stages were played out behind the scenes, out of sight, deep inside my mum’s mind. Unknown to any of us, friends or family, the 100 billion or so neurons in my mum’s brain started a countdown. These neurons in her brain threw out neurological branches that connected to more than 100 trillion points, allowing for thoughts and memories to be formed and recalled. Slowly, and completely silently, this number started to drop. With no fanfare, an incredibly awful and utterly incurable process began that would only begin to show itself years later.
When it did show itself, it did so relatively innocuously. It was the odd repeated question, the occasional double take, the subtlest of shifts away from engaging in conversation.
The science behind Alzheimer’s tells us that the areas of the brain most commonly affected early on are those that are used for learning and planning. I remember patiently sitting with my mum trying to explain to her how to use her new mobile phone. The simplest instructions seemingly lost in the seconds following the conversation. In retrospect I can see the folly of trying to explain, and reexplain, something new to my mum. That I failed to mitigate my own behaviour, let alone expectations, to allow for the early onset dementia is both something I regret, and something that makes me feel embarrassed.
How unequipped I was to support my mum in those initial stages leaves a deeper sadness in me now than the ending of her story. She was preparing for one of the hardest journeys of her life, and I turned up with no shoes to walk in, maps to direct me or rations to sustain us. I was woefully ill-equipped.