If only there was some kind of treatment for vascular dementia, but sadly there is not.
My dad is 83 and has had four strokes over the last few years, each one leaving him a little more physically debilitated, a little more mentally confused every time. Most of the time for now, dad is still recognisably dad in his own mind, but nevertheless occasionally his brain fails him completely with no warning, catching us all by surprise.
Sometimes he forgets how to co-ordinate his two walking sticks and two arms and two legs just to be able to walk across the room – sometimes while he is halfway across the room in question. Sometimes he forgets where he is even in his own home, becomes lost or disorientated, or thinks he is somewhere else from his past. And sometimes he forgets who we are, or how we are all related.
Sometimes he knows I am Ruth, but is surprised to find out I am his daughter. He asks my mum in confusion – if he is my dad, who is my mum? Yet at other times dad’s memory seems sharp as ever – well, to be accurate, as rambling as ever. I grew up more often than not being called Edith, who was my dad’s eldest sister. So to be called Ruth so regularly by my dad these days is, in itself, odd.
It hurts so much to see him fail, my strong, unfailing dad. Dementia is such a cruel disease… We all rely on a lifetime of memories crafted cumulatively in our mind’s eye to create our sense of self, anchor us firmly in the present. So when our precious memory fails us so catastrophically, when the shutters come down so suddenly, who are we then?