There are lots of aspects of dementia that would be fascinating if the subject matter was not your own wife. One recurring pattern of behaviour that needs exploration is fears of being left alone; even being abandoned. At this stage on my learning curve I am interested in speculating on the root of these fears. I am hoping that a clearer understanding of the condition will help me to make more informed responses to Maureen’s presentation.
It is not unusual for Maureen to wake up in the morning, or after a nap, very agitated because she fears she has been left alone. As I have mentioned before my early morning wakening means that I have often left the marital bed when the dawn chorus is still underway. This is nothing new and should be something that Maureen has got used to by now. So being alone in bed in the morning is normal for her in this household. It would also not be unusual for me to be pottering about, as she has one of her many naps on the sofa throughout the day. What is fairly typical is her response when she wakes up.
Generally, Maureen is almost in panic when she wakes after a period of sleep. Her anxieties take on a number of perspectives. Primarily, there are fears that she is alone: that we have all gone out and left her to her own devices. This is typified by something like this: ‘ I wondered where everybody had gone?’ It is rare that she grasps there are just the two of us here.
On other occasions she will wake and be concerned that she is late for something; typically school. At first I thought this was the school she worked in, then it dawned on me it was her own secondary school. I only twigged this when she mentioned that her uniform might not be dry. So I add two and two together and link this with ‘wanting her mum in the morning’: the one person who could help her find the things she needs.
I could speculate forever and never be sure of what is behind any aspect of Maureen’s presentation. Many have written that ‘time travelling’ take place and those with dementia are unsure of where they are in their life cycle. Sometimes I wonder if this fear of being alone is an understandable response to how people with dementia are treated following diagnosis. Being abandoned sums it up as well as anything I can come up with. Preparing for decline and a slow death are a much harder interpretation of the normal treatment plan.
So I am left with a 100 Million Dollar Question is this fear of being alone nature, nurture or dementia? Perhaps we will never know so best try to stay in bed longer and continue to try to come up with lots of ways to minimise distress.