The pandemic has left its mark on so many of us and it continues to affect people in so many different ways. We’ll never get to hear all the stories, but some will reach us and show just how devastating the last six months have been for a lot of people. Some of the worst affected, and possibly least reported on, have been those suffering with dementia. When Ryan Tubridy asked his listeners what we can all do to help older people during the pandemic, Laura was listening and she sent an email to the programme. Ryan read the email on Tuesday’s programme and then he spoke to Laura herself. First, some excerpts from Laura’s email:
“In February 2020, our mother was driven by me to a nursing home. And I felt like I was sentencing her to death, to be honest, but I had no choice. Her dementia was worsening by the day. My father was no longer able to cope.”
Although it was a hugely emotional experience, Laura’s mum Emily settled in well in the nursing home. But then Covid came:
“Our lives crashed and burned, as the centre of our lives, the woman we went to when the chips were down, was trapped inside those walls. A jail sentence for a housewife and mother of six… The past 6 months have been hell on earth. The separation, the anxiety, my father’s loneliness and broken heart. The guilt.”
Ryan asked Laura to tell him about her mother.
“She was always funny. She was a very witty person. Very loving, very helpful to people, very good neighbour. And a fantastic mother.”
Judging by what Laura told Ryan, Emily had quite the twisted sense of humour: she knew that her daughter was scared of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was in the house, so what would she do?
“She used to put it in my bed and I’d turn back the covers and she’d hear me scream and she’d crack up laughing. She was always up to something like that.”
Now, due to her dementia, Emily can’t really communicate too well. There’s a history of dementia in the family and Emily saw it coming. Ryan asked Laura if she could see her mother fading.
“When she saw it coming, when we saw it, we tried to deny it and we tried to think, you know, this is not happening to us, it can’t happen to her. But of course, it did and, yes, she did fade.”
Laura’s dad lives on his own and is, she says, terribly lonely. He can’t make his own meals, so the family has to rally around. As well as the guilt about her mother, Laura worries constantly about her dad and how he’s coping with it all. The family would, under normal circumstances, be under enormous stress, but the pandemic and all the restrictions and lifestyle changes that have come with it, have made things much, much worse. So much so, that Laura’s father has told his family that he won’t be able to take another lockdown.
Laura and her dad went to the nursing home on Monday to see Emily and she described the visit for Ryan:
“When we went in, she said to Dad, ‘I miss you.’ And that’s a lot for her to say now. And he says, ‘But, I miss you too.’ And then – It’s hell. 58 years of marriage, to look at them like that. And he with the mask on and she at the other side of a Perspex screen. It’s not natural. It’s inhumane, actually.”
When it comes to older people, Laura believes that the Covid pandemic has done immense harm and she thinks that so many people in nursing homes could have a far better quality of life if they were allowed proper, supervised, safe visitation.
“With the correct PPE, with the correct protocol, you can visit a person. You can speak to a person. You can have normal, everyday life.”
Laura included a poem with the email she sent to the Tubridy Show and you can hear that, as well as the full conversation with Ryan, by going here.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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