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In a park, one person pushing another person in a wheelchair

Dawn* was convinced there were people coming to steal her belongings, so after dinner when her husband Bill* was settled in the lounge room dozing in front of the television, she made her move.

Gathering up a bag of her most precious material and her sewing machine, she struggled across the road to her neighbour’s front gate. It was there she deposited her treasures, feeling sure they would be safe, and Mary* would take good care of them until all was well again.

She then returned home and settled in for the night. Bill was none the wiser of her actions and was surprised when Mary contacted him the next day, wondering why Dawn had left the items at her gate.

Dawn was out talking a walk, which was one of her favourite activities so Bill couldn’t ask her right away about her movements the previous night. Of course, he was oblivious to his wife’s anxiety over intruders and the ensuing worry over such things as where her bathrobe or hairbrush were. She felt silly just having these thoughts much less expressing them to Bill who wouldn't understand and just sigh then change the subject.   

Three, possibly four times a day, Dawn would take walk. It was her time to feel free of the confines of her house where so often now she felt unsafe and fearful. What had been her passion, the soothing sense of sewing, had also abandoned her as she felt frustrated trying to thread a needle, pin a hem or control the sewing machine. She could barely remember her grandchildren's names and the thought of spending time with them, guiding them through an art activity made her feel anxious.

2018.11.08 Stock Photo Outside Young child colouring in a picture 001              Young child outside colouring  Image sourced from iStock

The check-out ladies at the local supermarket were also up for a chat when Dawn would pop in for the bread she’d forgotten on her first walk, or the carrots she’d forgotten on her second. They had a giggle when she appeared again in the early afternoon chastising herself for forgetting Bill’s newspaper. (Bill, like clockwork, would buy his newspaper each day at 9 am, have it read by lunchtime and use it to start the wood heater, before watching the game shows on the TV). He’d settled in to challenge the contestants so Dawn would take her last walk of the day at dusk, when workers would be popping in to grab a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread, and she’d enjoy their camaraderie of “Hello Dawnie, how are you?”. 

At church, Dawn would query what page number the service was on, what the next hymn was and later, whether she’d put sugar in her cup of tea when people gathered in the hall kitchen afterwards. She loved this time when she could chat and share what she had done in her week. At home, Bill would usually just sigh and say “Yes. Dawn, Okay. Dawn” when she tried to tell him things; things that he’d heard numerous times before and his patience was now wearing thin.

Dawn’s daughter Carol*, visited her parents on a regular basis, when she could spare a bit of time away from her own family and their needs, or her own work, or her volunteering at the school canteen, or a bit of me-time at the gym. Such was the regularity and routine of her visits, she wasn’t aware of the subtle changes that were occurring to the dynamics of her parents and their lifestyle. She had a chuckle when her father recounted the story of the sewing machine and the material, thinking "well I can’t sew, so it’s no use to me". She also thought to herself, how it was such a relief that her Mum, after a bit of cajoling, had chosen to give up her license, such was her disorientation and memory loss when driving what had been familiar routes.

 2019.02.07 Stock Photo Outside Daughter or carer helping elderly woman out of the car 001              Younger woman helping an older woman exit a car. Image sourced from iStock

A number of weeks later, Dawn and Bill’s son Paul* was travelling through town while doing a delivery for his freight company. They were thrilled to see him and catch up on news. As the conversation developed, Paul* became increasingly concerned at what he was hearing. His Mum had never been one to go walking, so four times a day had him wondering. She hadn’t really been a regular churchgoer either but rather enjoyed helping out at the op shop once a week. It was her chance to scan the fabrics and catch up on the town news. Her sewing machine was her pride and joy, the one possession she had scrimped and saved for, so to hear his sister and father regaling the story of her leaving it outside at the neighbour’s front gate was heartbreaking.

A new and fresh perspective on a situation that had crept up on the family served to deal them a large dose of their new reality. Their darling mother and wife was slowly being engulfed in the fog of forgetfulness and fear that is dementia. 

Then came the practicalities of Dawn’s safety and security as her wanderings became more frequent and were now not just to the supermarket. The staff, when quizzed on her movements, all agreed it was unusual to have Dawn come to the shop so often, but she had always looked to be enjoying their conversations and they were always happy to see her.

In dreaded hindsight, Dawn’s family and friends agreed that the signs were there but it took Paul’s new insight to jolt them into the realisation that she needed help.

2018.12.04 Stock Photo Inside Retirement Home Happy elderly people being social and having a conversation 001              An older man and an older lady in a wheelchair talking. Image sourced from iStock

Fast forward a number of months and Dawn is now a resident at an aged care facility in the next town. Bill travels to visit her when he can and for now some of her friends keep her company, deflecting her protestations at been confined. She can’t walk for any distance but now enjoys being pushed in a wheelchair around the gardens of the facility, she's lost her interest in sewing however the social activities coordinator loves her precise cutting of fabric squares for the knee quilts they make, and she misses her visits to see the girls at the supermarket yet looks forward to chatting to Joyce the tea lady. Such is her journey that is dementia.

* all names have been changed to protect people's privacy

Information sourced from 

dementia Australia

Useful Resources 

Health direct - Dementia ( this website has the following sections related to Dementia)

Dementia - an overview  Dementia - an overview

Worried about dementia?  Worried about dementia?

Dementia and the home environment  https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dementia-and-the-home-environment

Alzheimer's disease  Alzheimer's disease

Younger onset dementia  https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/younger-onset-dementia

Caring for someone with dementia  Caring for someone with dementia

Respite care for carers of people with dementia  Respite care for carers of people with dementia

Dementia and driving   Dementia and driving 

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