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Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Dementia and the family

So have you heard of dementia?

Dementia is when old folks forget things, when they get clumsy, and when they seem totally non-functioning. When it happens to someone that you love, that you used to look up to, and that you used to rely on, it can be heart wrenching.

This is a video of a guy who spoke with his mum, and she can't remember his name. It's painful to watch. It's even more painful to watch his reaction after the meeting with his mother. He cried because his mother could remember his name, but forgot that she was his mother.

But that's life. Dementia happens. It will happen whether you want it to happen, or not. I'm not sure if you can say that someone is "suffering" from dementia, because that person doesn't even remember the painful things in life. He or she could be sitting face to face with her worst enemy and still have no ill feelings, because he or she would have forgotten about the past. Everything, good and bad, washed away. It might be a good opportunity to start afresh.

What if I get dementia one day?

Maybe I'll have dementia one day, who knows. If it happens, I welcome it, as a way of getting rid of nasty memories in life. If it doesn't happen, then at least I could help others who go through the same situation. Because I am going through a rough patch right now, and I hope that the day will come when I can look back at it all and truly feel no ill will to anyone. And dementia might be a good way to get there. Imagine looking at people and feeling nothing but curiosity and love for them. Imagine forgetting all the bad things that they'd ever done to you; and holding their hand and shaking it, to thank them for "coming to see me". Imagine the peace in your heart. Imagine their surprise.

My grandmother's experience

My grandmother had dementia. She was old, and had a hair full of white frizzled hair. When I met her I was a pre-schooler; she was a grizzly 80 year old lady. She was sometimes lucid, but she had forgotten many things. I remember her sitting in her rocking chair, looking into the horizon outside, hands held out in front of her, as though holding something ... as though she was trying to remember where and how she had gotten there. Perhaps her dementia had been caused by the pain that she had gone through when she was younger.

She had been the pampered daughter of a tin miner, but the social mores in those days dictated that women were not educated, only the men. And so it was, that she was left bereft, with no education, but she had her wits about her. She learned quickly, and spoke Malay and Tamil. It was pre-Merdeka days, and many things were still evolving. But after her father passed away, she was relegated to help out in the kitchen, as though she were nothing more than a mere maid. She slept with them, rose with them, and went to work with them for the sake of the household. She did not raise a single word against her brothers and her sisters-in-law, but they in turn derided her and treated her as a servant about the house, never breathing a word to their children that she was, in fact, their sister.

And so the day came when she ran away from home. Her siblings were aghast; their dirty secret was about to become known! Quickly, they hunted around for a man to marry her to, to silence her and send her away, for her to live a new life. And who should come along but my grandfather, a poor but good looking man from Fujian who was caught in Malaysia when war broke out. He was married, but he was willing to remarry, because it was not a crime in those days. Perhaps he also felt that he might not survive the war. And so, they got married.

I can't remember whether my grandfather had dementia, but I remember his gaunt face, and his tall height. When I was young, we lived just a few doors away from my grandparents, in a house owned by my grand uncle. I remember my grandfather coming from the gate to the front door, looking for my dad. I remember telling him that my dad wasn't around, and him nodding his head and walking back out the gate.

Your finances in the days of dementia

When you have dementia, who takes care of your finances? Probably one of the children, especially the one taking care of you. That's probably whats going to happen: He or she will take care of you, and your bank account. Your bank account will become a joint account. He or she can withdraw tremendous amounts if he or she is unscrupulous. And that might happen. Maybe not all the funds in your account will be taken out, but your child will have financial commitments. And if she or he had helped himself or herself to a few dollar bills from your wallet in his/her younger days, it wouldn't be unusual for him or her to do it again.

Dementia might help to mask the pain. But when you're old, you need your wits about you, especially if you cannot rely on your children. If they can send you to the old folks home, appreciate it and do what's best for you by preparing yourself. Ask your children to bring you home once a month, so that you can see the little grandchildren (which you might or might not have).

It's OK to have dementia. I just hope that your children understand that you are not in pain, and that you're in a better position than them, because you are without anger or pain.


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