Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Reality check

Had dinner with Okaasan last night.
Just the two of us, cos he was working late. made me realize: Okaasan really DOES have dementia.
The conversation circles within circles within circles...on and on and on and on...

It's pure dementia in action. A story from the distant, personal past, told with the same words and phrases in 1-2 minute loops.
Dinner was potato and cabbage, one of Okaasan's favorites, and I got her onto the topic: "you like potatoes because your mother came from Hokkaido, didn't she?".
So her chat was: wartime we didn't have food in the Tokyo area, if you had relatives in the country they could send you food maybe, but the local police opened up the packages and stole the food...and I didn't go to school, I worked in a factory making military underwear, I didn't have lessons, classmates who hated English were happy to miss school, the underwear sewing machines were noisy....
Repeat till dinner is finished. 8 times? No, own mind kind of blanked out.

In summer it is kind of easy to forget quite how bad Okaasan's dementia is, because she slips from day to day ok. watches TV, eats the lunch we put out for her, takes a bath when we tell her to, washes a few of her own clothes, goes for an afternoon walk and shop, comes home and sort of joins in dinner time conversation with family....washes dinner plates occasionally, takes in laundry, goes to the toilet herself etc All positive things that she CAN still do.
Yes, the dirty underwear is in layers of twos/threes in the laundry basket; yes, there are rotting Taiwan banana skins by the sofa; yes, there are confusions about folk dance vs. hula dance classes - but generally she is ok.

However, that hamster wheel conversation. Oh :-(
Yujiro says it is good for her: it shows she is relaxed and lets her chat on and on about her memories. I guess so. My Japanese language skills isn't good enough to fill out a whole dinner time with conversation (like him!!), so Okaasan fills it out. And how!

Sigh. Exhausting to give the same, interested responses.
Really? no food? How hard! Really? no school? You worked? Underwear for soldiers? Really?


Finish with a food picture. I have the tea party for my students coming this weekend. So I am practicing my cake making skills. I made sponge cake and carrot cake at the weekend. The carrot cakes were a success - yum!

For some reason, I chose Saturday as the party day this year. So, Yujiro will be home..and Okaasan? She panics if we say someone is coming to the house. I won't tell her this time. And then, about an hour before the party I will casually mention that there is tea and cake in the garden at 3 pm if she would like to join us - so she at least gets out of her pajamas and into clothes. All my students are, of course, wonderful friendly, Japanese people. Most of them middle aged and older. Okaasan would enjoy meeting them I think. But the whole meeting-strangers thing usually spins her world off its orbit a little.


  1. Hey,

    I found your blog today, I read some posts (not all) and I can understand your situation, my mother-in-law also has dementia, but she is not living with us (my mate is also japanese we are not married).

    Maybe I can't help you but sometimes is good to know that somebody can understand your situation, so I'm here!


  2. I have been stopping by for a while but I think this is my first comment. I really enjoy your blog. I admire you, i too am an Oyome san living with in-laws. This post struck a chord because although my grandmother in law doesn't have Alzheimer's she tells me the same stories over and over. I struggle to look interested and sometime I want to bang my head on the table and cry no more torture because she can talk for well over an hour. After reading your blog it has made me so much more aware. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hello - thanks for stopping by :-)...and you listen for AN hour???????????? alone??? you and her?? You are a saint!Is there any way to "I just have to...." so you can get up and move around and break the conversation wheel a bit...? How often are the repeats..Okaasan when bad can do the same conversation/words once every 2 mins...but if I break her train of muddled thought with some is enough to pack THAT topic away for another day...

  4. Hi Oyome-san,
    I had better explain a bit more. We all eat together and my father in law leaves as soon as he has eaten all the wants to, mother in law watches TV and comments on that, my husband reads the paper with his fingers in his ears so as not to be disturbed which leaves me a sitting duck for direction and education. She is so good to me that I listen as well as I can but sometimes I get really annoyed. I think she just loves talking. Her topics are usually things I have no knowledge or opinions off but I can usually follow with an electric dictionary. I also drive her places sometimes and get an earful then. Since I had a child I am often called away mid story to see to him. Very recently I have been a bit under the weather so she has stopped talking to/at me which makes me a bit sad because I feel she thinks I am not worth the effort plus she has more people to listen at the moment but on the other hand I rejoice. It can be hard to get away as she keeps eye contact and it is rude to break that to watch TV. But on the other hand I don't need to know the ins and outs of the business of people I don't know at all. Still it makes me laugh most of the time. I hope your Okaasan is feeling better after her fall.

  5. Love the image of Hub reading the paper with fingers in ears.

    YOU are good to sit there and be chatted at. As soon as we've finished eating, and usually even before Okaasan has finished - we are starting to clear plates, put uneaten food in the fridge and exit the kitchen upstairs to our apartment...our relax time doesn't start till then. Dinner with Okaasan is a necessity...we leave her alone to drink green tea.
    NOT ideal family at all.