Friday, October 19, 2007

Fading away

I've been thinking about age recently. Partly because I turned 40 -- and thanks for all the well wishes -- but also because I've been spending time around a very elderly person who is descending a very slippery slope; not into dementia, but into her own overwhelming sense of anxiety and loss of control that must come with getting frail and helpless. As well, a colleague lost a parent, very suddenly, leaving a partner who can't fend for himself. And tonight I saw Away From Her, the first movie about the ageing of the babyboomer generation that I've enjoyed, because it's not hubric about that particular generation, just honest, and extremely poignant.

Dementia haunts my (immediate) family. My grandfather has it in spades, and currently lives in a far South Coast facility that specialises in his condition. He doesn't know any of us, his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. He has been reduced to a very basic model of himself, his core personality. He still loves children, music, painting and walking. He still tries to escape; they call him the one-man escape committee, but he's always had an urge to escape, wherever he was. He just wanted to walk, to be, to exist without trappings. When he first retired, he was a hippy farmer, wandering happily around his property on the edge of Lake George in a kaftan with nothing underneath. Mmm, fresh air and sunshine.

All the theories about avoiding dementia are, in my opinion, phooey. Crosswords? Brain puzzles? He did them every day, because he loved them. Creativity? He drew, painted, cast, threw pots, and all beautifully. Eat healthy foods? He was a vegetarian who drank wheat grass juice every day before anyone else had heard of it. Exercise? He walked for miles.

It's either bad luck or genetics. I vote genetics, in this case. He has a number of siblings (at least 4, one of whom died in WW2) and they all, except one, got it. My mother is terrified of getting it, she makes note on everything, but she is hopeful about the theory that it skips generations. Which puts me firmly in the firing line.

I, too, am terrified of developing it, and pin my hopes on my brother having received the genes. That would be sweet. And then I figure that if I get it, I won't know about it, so what's the problem?

The problem is, as you all know, those left behind. The ones around who are faced with leaving you somewhere, finding someone to look after you, who are left with a basic personality and no shared memories. My poor Nana is not quite a widow, and all her hopes of growing old with the man she loves/d are dashed. Luckily she's a very self-sufficient person, and one of the personal bonuses of getting really old is the shrinkage of your life down to your own concerns. Nana lives in jolly Nana world, and as long as her dog and her garden are near by, all's right with the world.

Oh, where am I going with this? I think this is another one of those posts where I'm not quite sure where I'm going, I just want to tap away at the keyboard until my wurties go away.

It is a very good movie, and raises some excellent issues once you mentally cut through the neat tying up of themes. I guess it made me sad for my grandfather. It made me wistful for the future. And scared. And hopeful that if I do go quietly blank, that someone will be close to me who can deal with it. And if I keep my faculties, but just get very elderly, that my young toyboy of a husband (see? aren't I clever) will still be there. And if I die young, let it be swift, and reasonably painless.

I guess that's all any of us can hope for, eh?

beach walking


Enny said...

My dad's aunt had dementia and lived up in Sydney - she taught me to crochet but didn't remember - he went to visit her sometimes.

He said that although it was so sad to see her, she was always so happy. She didn't remember that the rest of her brothers and sisters had died, asking where they were and quite content to know 'they were well'. Her memory was quite short term and my dad delighted in telling us how during eachvisit she would more than once look startled all of sudden at stare at him, exclaiming "Stephen! Hullo! I haven't seen you for years... my, you've gotten fat!"...

genevieve said...

This is a very fine account of the matter, &D. Just heard from my sister about her mother-in-law, an old family friend, who is now saying to her grandchildren whenever she sees them, "My, what beautiful children these are, whose are they?". Apparently they are not upset by it, which surprises me a bit (as their fond aunt) - if that had happened to my grandma and she was still ambulatory and in her own home, I would have been devastated. This person seems to be quite happy in herself. Maybe that does help others a little, though the repetitiveness would have to wear you down.