My Awakening to The Dangers of Dementia

Seven days, five falls, and a kitchen fire…

The seven days culminated with the fire. It started and took hold in the kitchen, rapidly setting the cupboards alight. In turn, it melted the washing machine, charred the ceiling, and nearly blew the fridge up.

How my parents didn’t die, I will never know.

Luck — or fate — call it what you like; it intervened in the shape of a burly neighbour called Dave. He scooped my stepdad up and removed him from the raging fire. By now, the intensity of the heat was melting the plastic seal on the double-glazed back door.

The fire ravaged the kitchen. Thus, destroying all the appliances and the kitchen units. White walls, once the hallmark of the kitchen, were black with soot. The tiles on the floor lay covered with a mixture of strawberry jam and ash. The jam, it seems had exploded from the jar like custard on a stove left unstirred.

Further away from the centre of the fire hung a clock, its plastic cover hanging like icicles. Other signs of the intense heat lingered as we inspected the damage. The soot-covered cobwebs, normally hidden from view now loitered boldly from the ceiling.

Falling with dementia

A slip was where the falls began.

My stepdad was moving paper files from one room to another when he slipped on a plastic wallet, he had earlier discarded. The movement of paper files was erratic and unnecessary. It was another sign. Although the fall seemed innocent enough, he stayed on the floor as we waited hours for a COVID delayed ambulance to arrive, just to be on the safe side.

No harm done we thought until a similar event occurred the following day. This time it wasn’t a slip but more of a slide — straight off the chair and onto the floor. We travelled to help him up and waited for another ambulance to arrive.

Falls three and four passed with less fuss, but with a growing concern of where this was heading. As we feared, fall number five was more serious — my stepdad rolling forward from his chair, his legs unable to straighten as gravity took him towards the TV cabinet.

A bump on the head resulted in a hospital visit and a CT scan to investigate what the cause could be. Speculation led us towards Parkinson’s, a diagnosis we weren’t expecting.

A diagnosis

It wasn’t Parkinsons.

It was dementia. A diagnosis we all expected but didn’t want to hear. My stepdad had been forgetful for a while, confusing pants for trousers and vice versa. T-shirts ended up on back to front, and pairs of socks became a dressing for only one foot, not two.

His speech stuttered sometimes, as he became flustered at events before him. There were other signs; confusion, incredible weight loss, and an ability to lose his phone, his wallet, and keys at will.

The one we didn’t expect was his confusion over making toast. To warm the bread in the toaster, my stepdad decided to use the hob on which the toaster was on top of.

Hence the kitchen fire.

He had been alone for a few minutes. We assume he wanted toast, but he doesn’t know, and can’t remember what happened. In some respects, he is the lucky one. The fire gutted the kitchen and nearly claimed his and my mum’s lives. They are so lucky.

Seven days of dementia

Seven days ago, I wouldn’t have seen this coming. The full — in your face — it’s me, dementia. Yes, my stepdad was ill, and we had voiced our concerns to the doctor. The appointment for tests was six months after our discussion with the doctor. But seven days ago, no, I wouldn’t have predicted this outcome.

We knew COVID was delaying the tests, we forgot it wouldn’t delay dementia.

COVID is horrible, not for what it does — which is bad enough — but for what it stops you from doing. In normal times, a diagnosis might have arrived sooner, and protected him sooner. It isn’t the doctor’s fault. It’s the fault of the pandemic.

Now, as the last seven days have shown, my stepdad is a danger to himself and others. Now, the system must react — and has — to protect him. He is secure and safe.

That is a good thing.

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