Monday, 2 January 2012

The Voyage of Dementia

Ah dementia. Word of the year for 2011. A condition on the rise with any number of battles with a reluctant NHS up ahead. I’ve known at least two people who have ended their days in the grips of this mind thinner. It’s a condition that has no cure, that cannot be fixed, that cannot be made better. The mind wears away, its edges fray, its central parts rub thin like overused shoes. The memories flake off and float away. The ability to move from A to B becomes compromised. The familiar is no longer familiar.

Things get worse in stages, like descending steps. There are plateaus of calm but nothing ever climbs back up. Eventually it all goes on down. The drugs the NHS reluctantly prescribes, reluctant because they are deemed too expensive, can help. They can reduce dementia’s advance and slow its progress. But this condition cannot ultimately be stopped.

My mother carried the names of things she couldn’t remember around with her on scraps of paper in her pockets and in her purse. When she pulled them out she wondered what they were for. Who put these here, she’d ask? You did, I’d say. I did not. Why would I do that?

Yesterday I couldn’t remember the name of the pub built onto the restored pilot house in Cardiff Bay. Leave the Millennium Centre and turn left instead of right. Sam Smith’s Brewery. Like the Tardis once you got inside. What was it called? I just couldn’t recall. Today I still can’t. The name has become erased. Gone off into a set of brain cells which have had their ends taped up. It’s not the Eli Jenkins nor the White Hart. It’s The Waterguard. I’ve just looked it up.

Should I be worried? Not with Google at my side.

Mike, when he was in the teeth of it, would sit in the pub watching his beer evaporate. What do I do with this glass of brown stuff, he might have been thinking, who knows. But after we’d somehow persuaded him to drink a bit and the alcohol began to flow in his veins he’d brighten up. He’d become chatty, remember who he was and who we were. Told the odd joke. Smiled. Almost the man he once was. For Mike alcohol helped.

Dementia – Alzheimer’s –it’s a process, it’s a condition of our post-modern world.

Here’s the poem:

The Voyage of Dementia

The voyage of discovery
The victim of disaster
The volume of dissonance
The vileness of dementia

The discovery of shelter
The death of simplicity
The dissonance of decisions
The disaster of democracy

The viciousness of critics
The volume of criticism
The voyage of creation
The vision of cremation

The dimness of vicissitude
The demonstrability of volume
The debility of ventilation
The death of vision

The fracture of the future
The firmness of dissonance
The fullness of digression
The filibustering of death

The criticism of creation
The commuting of conquest
The consolation of commutation
The cessation of courage

The diagram of depth
The digitisation of drumming
The disregard of dignity
The dimness of diplomacy

The directness of the dharma
The diagnosis of devaluation
The desperation of death
The dementia of denouement

The denouement of dementia.


Phil Simmons said...

Powerful piece, Peter. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So apt and poignant and for me, rage provoking - alzheimers has no redeeming factor.. My father died last year after suffering from Lwey Body disease (a form of dementia). He left an unfinished reference book on local history behind - one of the first signs of his disease was his inablility o find files on his computer. Then he'd get lost on familiar routes and would ring home for directions. Your poem sums up the despair and unfairness of this terrible disease. Thank you

Anonymous said...

before my grandfather died of alzheimers in 1996 he used to hit on women in the nursing home hall, pretend to speak French and ask any passerby how Joe Demaggio had done that day...he was half a century away and seemed quite content...alas, for us, it was sad and hard to love, and say goodbye, to a stranger... David E Oprava

Anonymous said...

Really love The Voyage of Dementia - David Steer

Anonymous said...

The Voyage of Dementia sums it up. When my family was hit by this dreadful disease I became very protective of the sufferer and now am sensitive to any jokes or remarks about 'senior moments' and the like. Until it's encountered nobody can understand what dementia does to families. Karin Mear

Anonymous said...

The nomenclature is not the knowing. - Amanda Rackstraw

Anonymous said...

It's certainly the word of 2011 in this family. I don't understand 'the nomenclature is not the knowing' - it's so much bigger than just words. The only way my aunt was diagnosed - because she seems to just about manage to pass the tests, even though she's all over the shop now - was when they gave her a scan and saw the holes in her brain. It's horrifying. And she has hallucinations, too. I love the list format of your poem Peter and the 'denouement' reversal.- Katy Evans-Bush

Anonymous said...

Lovely poem - Ira Lightman

Anonymous said...

There's the disease, and there's the fear of the disease. I understand the severity of Dementia and its devastating impact on family. Of course it's much more than words. It's awful. I know.
Many of us over a certain age forget the names of things, places, people. It can be pretty upsetting; perhaps because of the loomimg threat. So I guess I like to remind myself that naming is not knowing. I can find my way across a town but may not remember all the streets, I can know and appreciate flowers without their latinate names; I can know and love friends and family but sometimes get their names mixed up. In this sign soaked world it's good to consider the labelling isn't all. - Amanda Rackstraw

Gwil W said...

The clocks. Well chosen. Your forgetting the name of the pub is understandable. We can't be expected to remember the names of every boozer we lurch out of
or into or pass by . . .

Recently had a phone call from an old person. It started thus:

What time is it?

What time is it where you are?

One hand is on 8. One hand is on 2.

It's the same here. Why do you ask?