Health & wellbeing

Midsummer madness: A trip to the memory clinic

18 Feb 2023 | Written by By Geraldine Durrant

Blogger Geraldine Durrant writes of her and her husband’s trip to the “memory clinic,” where Patrick’s put through his paces…

You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.

Three months after I had taken Patrick to the GP about his growing confusion we received an appointment for the “memory clinic”.

“Memory clinic” is of course a kind euphemism for “the lack-of-memory clinic” and this impending trial caused Patrick much alarm as he fretted about what exactly might be involved.

“I expect they will just ask you some questions,” I told him, “so just do your best and then perhaps we can get some medicine which will help you remember things…”

“What sort of things?” he asked earnestly.

The list of things I would have liked Patrick to remember was by then so long that I didn’t go into details and simply said that I would sit with him and we would do whatever was needed together.

Patrick however was already considering his options.

“Well if I fail,” he announced grandly, “I suppose I will just have to resign.”

“Resign?” I queried. “Resign from what?”

Patrick gave me a look of withering pity.

“From my candidacy for the Conservative Party of course…”

I took this news on the chin, reflecting that it would be one less thing for me – and indeed the Conservatives – to worry about: and if I’m being completely honest I wouldn’t have relished all the canvassing…

Sandra, the mental health nurse, was calm and reassuring as she put Patrick through his paces, testing his memory, his comprehension and his spatial awareness.

But it was painful to watch.

Half of me wanted “my boy” to score top marks; the other half wanted him to fail so that the true extent of his fluctuating confusion was obvious.

And yet another part, as Patrick struggled to put his story together, wanted to shout out the answers like an over-eager school child as he got question after question wrong.

“I know Miss! Ask meee..!”

It turned out that Patrick knew the time, more or less, and the season, but he was a good deal hazier about the year.

He also knew who the Prime Minister was, and I was impressed by the relative fluency with which he rattled off a minute’s worth of words starting with P.

“Pit, pat, pot and pet,” came readily to his mind, as did similar pairs of words like public and pubic, post and past.

But a similar test to name as many animals as he could in a minute saw him flounder completely.

A confident “Aardvark” was his slightly out-of-field first offering and I mentally commended him for not going for anything more obvious.

But my hopes he would work his way methodically down the alphabet to zebra were quickly dashed as he added with misplaced confidence, “that’s a bird…”

And there his triumph ended.

Not a single other animal name came to him as we sat for one of the longest minutes of my life waiting for the remaining 59 seconds to tick emptily down.

It was also apparent that Patrick could no longer replicate simple geometric shapes, although when asked to write two complete sentences he embarked on a couple so long I feared he was about to start a novel.

Sandra – who had talked and noted and ticked throughout – promised to come back to us with her verdict within a fortnight.

I meanwhile had homework about my own observations regarding Patrick’s abilities – although he didn’t seem to fit neatly into a great many of the options offered.

Does he get lost? was one such conundrum.

Strictly speaking the answer was, “No – never”.

But that was only because Patrick would not leave the house willingly at all, and when he did, he was always with me.

I suppose I could have let him loose on an unsuspecting world to see whether, like Hansel and Gretel, he could have found his way home, but it would have been a rather heartless experiment…

And as we waited for a definitive diagnosis it seemed to me at least that whatever his dementia – Alzheimer’s, vascular, frontal lobe or Lewy body – it was all somewhat academic.

But a second ordeal was also on the cards.

I had been unacquainted with the acronym TWOC except in the context of Taking Without Consent, but discovered it also stands for Trial Without Catheter.

So at 7am one morning Sam a nurse from the local hospital arrived to see if, by some miracle, Patrick could resume peeing freestyle.

The consultant, a man so kind and gentle he could have been supplied by central casting to play the role of a lovely doctor, had assured me there was no physical reason why Patrick could not pee.

His bladder was free of infection, he showed no sign of cancer and his prostate was commendably small.

So Sam unplumbed him, promising to return later and check on progress.

At 10am there was a cry of triumph from the bathroom.

Patrick had managed a “dribble”: and at noon – as the cold tap whooshed encouragement and following five minutes of deep concentration – he managed a mugful.

But our delight in this modest achievement was short-lived.

When Sam returned two hours later a bladder scan showed Patrick’s bladder was full – but not a drop more could he squeeze out.

It seemed the district nurse was right: with dementia the ‘little bell’ that indicated Patrick’s need to go to the lavatory had simply stopped ringing.

He had been TWOC-ed – and found wanting…

Geraldine Durrant is a retired journalist, feature writer and children’s author who – since her husband was diagnosed with dementia a year ago – has kept a diary about her experiences as his carer. We have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal story on our blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series next Saturday.

If Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.

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