The world to SMIL is currently antagonistic and overwhelming. She is reacting with aggression, fairly predictably.
I thought I could see it coming. For a few weeks before Christmas the nursing home was doing its best to make sure the residents did not miss out. There was a lot of special everything going on. The close-living family joined in. For a week before, all over Christmas week and the week after, when I rang daily, either someone was there, or a visitor had just left or a couple were arriving. Not just for SMIL. Covid restrictions had been lifted; relatives of all and sundry were there in droves.
This continued until SMIL lost her rag and bit the visitor of another resident. She was subsequently moved to the more secure area of the nursing home and can no longer talk on the phone, just screech and gibber. I hear the staff talking to her very calmly and can hear her reacting inappropriately and with aggression; she is as demented as she has ever been.
I recall the Christmas that I had to cancel for my mother, on doctor’s orders. ‘Are you going to continue until she kills someone?’ the doctor wanted to know. The food was in the fridge, the decorations were up, all was arranged. What I hadn’t counted on was the four hour visit of two family members. My mother ‘entertained’ and was subsequently so tired she couldn’t sleep and became hysterical.
If a family member had advanced cancer, or had just had a heart attack, no kindly disposed visitor would stay for four hours. A very kindly disposed visitor might enquire first if the sick person was well enough for the visit at all.
An only child, used to being alone and quiet, having lost a son to suicide, endured a once in a hundred years pandemic, suddenly moved to a strange place and put in a home with many strange others, many of whom are also demented and dangerous, and then inundated with vast numbers of visitors, all keen to make up for the Christmases when visits were rationed because of Covid, this is SMIL.
A person who has lost their words, who cannot remember what happened this morning, or what day it is, who can only communicate physically, who cannot remember where the toilet is, or if they need to go, in a room full of strange people, this is SMIL.
No wonder she became aggressive. She lacks the words to ask them to all go away and make it quiet. She cannot communicate her distress at the noise, or the busyness.
Have you ever had very bad flu? The bit where all you want to do is lie down in a darkened room with a hot drink and a box of tissues? Now imagine, instead of that, that you are forced to entertain a room full of loud strangers but that you cannot speak and no one would listen anyway but treat you like an idiot.
What would you do?
By my mother’s last Christmas I had learned what to do about Christmas for the demented. I rote-learned her, wrote notes and letters and repeated the programme of events endlessly. The deal was that she didn’t have to do anything. Nothing at all was expected of her. If it was all getting too much she was to ask for her meals in her room in quiet. On Christmas day we would arrive in the afternoon. We being the OH, me, The S&H, his bride, the GDD and the gifts. My mother had been given an elf to give to the GDD. Christmas would last an hour until the cakes and tea came round and that was it. After that bed was suggested, or an evening meal if she could be bothered.
And it went like clockwork. You can scroll down five years and read all about it. An hour, which in the end was just over the hour, was enough for a person with advanced dementia to cope with. As it was there was a fight over the elf, which my mother had taken a shine to. The GDD, under two at the time was the star turn, being very funny with a Santa hat, taking it on and off and saying: BOO! This level of interaction my mother could appreciate and cope with splendidly. In retrospect the GDD had all my genes and played to the audience like a good ’un.
If you have a demented person suffering from too much Christmas and you are getting the back-lash, I suggest you accept it as a learning curve and plan the next family event as boringly as possible. Meanwhile for the overstretched, demented, exhausted sufferer, the very best medicine is quiet and vast amounts of nothing at all happening. Ideally back to the most routine routine there can be. Get up, eat, sit, eat, sit, go to bed. Repeat.
If you are the provider of Christmas for your family, have you recovered from the providing yet? Have you taken the decorations down? Are you glad to get back to normal? Now imagine all that you did if you had to do it unrecoverably ill.
Sometimes less really is more.
I hope a lot of quiet and sleep will help SMIL. Currently phone calls are very brief, just to reassure her I am still here but it is still upsetting to hear her screeching. I ask if she is well enough to speak and if I am told she is asleep or unable, I ask the member of staff to give my love at an appropriate moment.
Contact with a distressed demented person can be draining but do not give up.
It could be you. Be glad of every day that it is not.