During the pandemic, I have been unable to visit my parents, because they are elderly, and my father in particular has poor health.
It’s been especially tragic, because recently, he has gone into a respite care home, in order to give my mother, his principle carer, a break.
She is not ill, but has become increasingly frail, weak and tired; unable to look after him. At the moment, we are all waiting for a report from the social services and occupational health.
This will determine whether, or not, he is fit to return home, and if so, what degree of support they will need, to care for him, and support her.
Dad is fully compos mentis, although frustrated that his body no longer does what he wants it to, and his memory occasionally fails: with names, events, and individual words.
This is a big change, for one who was previously able to remember dates from decades ago, navigating mentally via football matches, and favourite holiday snaps.
However, I do know three people, locally, who are at various stages of Alzheimers. One is just beginning, anxious about the future, fearing the gradual loss of self-awarenesss.
Another, simultaneously experiences paranoid schizophrenia, and is frightened of vans following them along the street, looking out of their window to see anyone who may break in.
The third is so forgetful, they sometimes can’t remember the route from their living room to the bedroom, in a flat they’ve lived in for twenty years.
Sometimes art illuminates these human experiences. Two recent movies, for example, explored this theme of dementia.
“Still Alice”, from 2014, starring Julianne Moore, is a poignant depiction of an academic’s slide into oblivion, which nevertheless ends on a peaceful note.
In contrast is Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal, in The Father, a 2021 oscar-nominated film, of an old man whose grip on reality is steadily declining.
The storyline is very disorientating, because told from his perspective.
Different actors playing the same person, varying décor and furniture, in what is supposedly the same apartment, replicate the confusion of Hopkins’ character.
Ending up, uncomprehendingly, in a residential home, there is also a hint of elder abuse from its staff – a sad depiction of the fate which might come to any of us.
Just as Covid has made us aware of our mortality, these movies help us understand the loss of self through Alzheimer’s, and hopefully make us more empathetic.
They may also help us prepare mentally for the decline of our own mental ability, everything we stored up to console ourselves.
Perhaps they may also help us let go, of our achievements and possessions, and prepare for whatever lies ahead in another realm.
One consoling development for me, is that my grown-up daughter has asked to accompany me, when we are permitted to visit my parents.
I am looking forward to this cross-country, cross-generation, road trip – like another movie.