Teacher Michael Fassio cared for his Italian-born mother Renza through the progressive stages of dementia from 2001 until her death in 2008.
‘At first I didn’t face up to the fact that Mum had dementia. I thought of it as ‘forgetful’ and ‘scatty’. I did notice she used the weekly television guide as a calendar to mark when I was going to visit, even though I went on the same day. But she went shopping as usual, and still cycled. She was 75.
‘But a neighbour later told me that sometimes she got very upset with herself for being forgetful. Then one day she got lost when cycling locally. My sister, who’s a nurse, realised what was happening and tried to tell me.
Living with mum
By 2003 Renza was living with Michael, no longer able to deal with shopping or money. But the less she could do, the more restless she became. So she and Michael would go for walks. Five or six times a day. ‘She loved walking, holding my hand, looking at the flowers and the river, chatting. She got so fit. ‘
Twelve months later, however, Michael was finding it hard to cope and still finds that time difficult to talk about. ‘Mum became irrational and would hallucinate and get terribly upset. I remember saying ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be your memory’ but I also had to pacify her when she thought she saw people in the garden.’
This passed but Renza also stopped speaking English and reverted to the Italian of her childhood.
Increase in demands
Renza’s physical needs were also becoming more demanding, as she needed increasing help with dressing, toileting and bathing. ‘I don’t know how I would have coped if I’d anyone else but myself to look after,’ says Michael candidly. ‘And I was only able to earn a quarter of my full-time income at that point. But I was truly worried that no nursing home could care for her and understand her as well as I could.’
Renza became ever more childlike. Even if given to dramatic explosions of Italian temper that Michael laughingly likens to a performance by Sophia Loren. He even managed to fulfill her dream of a visit to her sister in Italy. Not that easy because, although you can ask for assistance with travel, people with dementia hold no truck with timetables!
‘Despite everything I never felt Mum was lost to me. In fact I look back and I feel I got to know her better because of the dementia. She told me all about her childhood and her family in 1930s Italy. Several times over!’
Find out how to buy Michael's book, Dementia and Mum, who really cares?, from his website www.michaelfassio.co.uk