I told this story to a friend the other day and she encouraged me to turn it into a blog post. It is about five women whom I met when I was working at a residential home for the elderly in my student days.

I worked in the kitchens and as a cleaner at the home, and as it was a residential rather than a nursing home most of the residents had dementia or simply needed a little assistance with their day to day lives. I met some wonderful people there – staff and residents – and learned an awful lot. Five women in particular though stand out in my memory.

I don’t know whether there has been any research done on this, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that when somebody has dementia, it is their innermost values and needs that come to the fore, as their inhibitions diminish. It really made me think about who I would be without social constraints and mental filters, and what would be my uppermost concerns. Four of the women at the home had very specific concerns. I have changed their names here but let me introduce you to Kitty, Florence, Marjorie, Ada and Annie.

Kitty’s main concern was her little girl. She would ask every day where her little girl was, she was very concerned to make sure that she was okay. Her little girl was in fact now her adult daughter but Kitty couldn’t remember that. Her mind was firmly in “mum” mode and she wanted to know her daughter’s whereabouts. Fortunately, she was easy to reassure and did not become distressed as long as she was told her daughter was safe.

Florence was also very concerned with the whereabouts of something, but for Florence it was her money. She was very anxious about where her money was, to the point where a wallet with a few coins in was kept in her room because she would become distressed without it. She wasn’t interested in how much there was, and certainly never suggested anything on which she wanted to spend it. She just needed to know that she had it.

Marjorie was horny. No question about it. There were very few men in the home, as is usually the case, but every week a middle-aged man would come in to give the residents some art therapy. Marjorie was always extremely happy to see him and her face would light up whenever there was a man around. Beside her bed she had a lovely photograph of her wedding, and although it was bittersweet to see it I liked to think that her enthusiasm for male company suggested that her romantic life had been a happy one.

Ada on the other hand was angry. Not all the time, a lot of the time she was fine, but she had a temper on her. Being trapped inside a mind with dementia must be incredibly frustrating, and Ada would display that at times. She still had her red hair so I guess to use a stereotype she was a fiery redhead. She rarely appeared anxious, but annoyed at the world in general? Oh yes.

Finally, we have Annie. Annie did not suffer from dementia, she was in the home because she was blind. Whilst I worked there Annie celebrated her 100th birthday, and got her telegram from the queen.

Annie would sit calmly in her armchair every day, listening to the comings and goings, and was always happy to have a chat. Her favourite thing was to have someone read out the crossword clues to her so that she could do the crossword. She was a friendly woman who was always good company, and despite the fact that she was now in a home with a number of residents in various stages of dementia, she was always composed and seemed content.

Two things I know about Annie: she never married, and she travelled extensively. She had had a fascinating life and had done all manner of things in her 100 years.

As women, if we are fortunate enough to live to a grand old age, the chances are we will find ourselves in a care home or residential setting of some kind, with a lot of other women. Regardless of the romantic choices we make, that is probably where we will be. For my part, I hope that by then I have found all of my calm, and have let go the daily anxieties and nagging worries. I certainly do not want to become a prisoner to them if my mind loses its ability to manage itself effectively.

My aim has always been to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of life, and I think that is in part down to Annie. Knowing that she had been everywhere and done it all meant that she could face old age with equanimity, and a whole host of memories.

Let’s not end our days with frustrations, anxieties and regrets. Let’s end our days with good memories, content in the knowledge that we left it all out on the field.

With perhaps a dash of Marjorie’s continued joie de vivre.

Helen Calvert
Coach and Director of Clear Day
July 2021

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