Mum used to like to drink. Before you get the wrong idea, I don’t mean she downed a bottle of vodka, or even dry pale cream sherry, before breakfast. No, Mum always knew how important it is to take in fluid, to say hydrated. On journeys to family holiday destinations, Mum would pack a drink each for my sister and I. It was normally orange squash, served in a tupperware beaker. Mum seemed to swear by tupperware, since “tuppa” vessels inhabited every cupboard in the kitchen. If I remember rightly, she used to go to tupperware parties (the 1970s was a wild, hedonistic decade in Walsall), from which she’d return with more of the stuff. No doubt, it was extremely practical but those holiday drinks always had a taste of plastic about them.
But I digress. The Mum of days gone by loved her coffee, her fruit juice and latterly her bottled water and would consume a fair amount of all during the day. Now, though, drinking is an issue, as it is with so many people living with dementia. Fortunately, Mum’s appetite for food is still a healthy one, albeit she is very easily distracted and needs to be eating in a group to finish a meal. Drinking, though, is a different matter. Mum is offered, and accepts, a steady variety of drinks during the day but she finishes very few, if any. In fact, I don’t think she even starts many.
Eating and drinking is a significant issue for people living with dementia. As Dr Shibley Rahman points out in his indispensable guide Living Well With Dementia (i), the hunger and thirst part of the brain ceases to function in the later stages of dementia. In other words, a person might not know whether he or she is hungry or thirsty. Mum seems to like the idea of a drink, and the staff in the care home make sure she has a steady supply, but it’s as if she doesn’t know what to do next any more. Yesterday, as we sat outside on one of the hottest days of the year so far, Mum had a cold cup of coffee she’s been nursing for some time, and a glass of red juice. I had a glass of water. I drank, and encouraged Mum to do so. She said she would and then did nothing.
“I don’t what this is,” she said, examining the glass of said red liquid, by which she wasn’t referring to the contents.
So, we played a game:
“Three, two, one…DRINK.”
Mum happily chanted along and together we took a sip or two.
We did it again and I silently congratulated myself. A few minutes later, I tried the trick again but Mum was wise to my subterfuge this time and stubbornly refused to follow my lead. It had worked twice and at least she’d taken in some fluid, but it made me think of people living with undiagnosed dementia, possibly alone. Who is making sure they drink, or eat, enough?
A sad postscript to last week’s post about the role pets can play in the lives of people living with dementia. Coca, the care home’s loveable resident labrador, has died. She had cancer of the stomach. Everyone at the home will miss her, even though not one resident has remarked on her absence. Proof again of how people with dementia live in the moment. Still, she was part of all their lives. RIP Coco.
(i) Living Well with Dementia Shibley Rahman Radcliffe Publishing 2014