Friday, February 24, 2017

Alzheimer’s - how do we preserve the humanity?

Don Aitkin had a rather touching piece on the impact of dementia. It dealt with both the costs and personal effects of the condition. Not Don himself, I hasten to add.

I think that most of us as we grow older think about  the risk of Alzheimer’s.

This is one of our family shots taken in Glen Innes around 1920. Aunt Helen is on the right, Aunt Kay on the left.

In many ways, Helen was a remarkable woman. She was always adventurous. Not long after completing her nursing qualifications at Royal Prince Hospital in Sydney, she went to Malaya to serve as a British Red Cross during the Emergency, service for which she received two medals.

Her role was no easy task. Unarmed and alone apart from a driver, she went by Land Rover to the kampongs to provide medical help. The Red Cross was neutral. She was to provide medical support without asking too many questions.

During her time in Malaya, Helen fell in love with Malaya and the Malays, an affection that would last for the rest of her life. She also fell deeply in love with a British planter who visited Armidale one Christmas.

He was married. When this became family knowledge, it seems that family pressures forced the break-up in the relationship.I say seemed because I never discussed it with Helen, but have only snippets of family information to work from.

Helen never married. She worked in Sydney as a nurse and doctor's receptionist well into her seventies, concealing her age in order to do so. This allowed her to travel, including travelling overland from India to London when you could still do that, as well as visiting Asia.

Finally forced to retire, she spent many of her last years in her bed-sit at Pott's Point attending adult education classes and concerts. During this time I saw her on most visits to Sydney, taking her out to dinner when I could.

I'm not sure when the Alzheimer’s first kicked in. It was progressive, initially unseen. Finally, it got so bad that she could not live alone.The family agreed that she should return to Armidale to a nursing home where her sister could look after her. Already ill from cancer, she died soon after.

Helen could never understand why she had come to Armidale. Right to the end, she wanted to go back to her little unit and resume her normal life. It was quite difficult.

Much of the debate about Alzheimer’s has been expressed in economic terms, costs and benefits of particular actions. There is remarkably little discussion around the human elements. With an aging population in which more people live alone without or at least remote from family, I think that we need to address the human elements. If we don't, I think that the result will be an inhumanity focused on lowest cost "solutions" cruel to those involved that will degrade us all.        


Anonymous said...

Oh Jim, I felt so sad when I read this post. Helen was a remarkable woman, as were all the Drummond girls.

Such a cruel disease. My dad had dementia and I don't know the answer to your question other than to say it's a good question to ask.

On a totally different track, I love a parody and if you read Donald Trump's twitter feed this is a very funny take off from @donaeldunready:

Canute. What a loser. Can't even hold back the sea. It's just water. We're going to be so tough on the sea. Canute was too soft. Sad.


Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, Sue. They were wonderful. I posed the question, but like you I cannot answer it. I did laugh at the @donaeldunready quote. I hadn't heard of him, but have now joined his 100k or so followers!