Another independent shop has closed its doors in Aberystwyth’s picturesque Eastgate Street. The windows, masked in brown paper give it a depressing air.
The now closed Snowdrop Care and Mobility shop in Eastgate Street
However the message posted to the customers gives pause for thought, for it reads “ We would like to thank all our customers for their support and we are sorry there were not enough of you”.
Snowdrop Care and Mobility sold walking aids and wheelchairs, lift-and-recline chairs and beds, mobility scooters, ramps, stair-lifts, continence aids and extra wide footwear for swollen feet. Not equipment many of us are eager to need. Can we conclude that Aberystwyth’s population is, in the main, ageing more healthily than the commercial predictions suggested? I hope so. Certainly there are plenty of the elderly out and about leading busy lives.
Those less fortunate, it is implied (and I hope there are not too many of them) will have to shuffle off to Haverforwest ( a round trip of 125 miles). On the other hand they may resort, as we all increasingly do, to doing their shopping on the internet. I understand that an extensive range of this equipment can be obtained through Lloyds Pharmacy.
A reproachful notice to customers of the now-departed shop
My mother was never considered to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed her death certificate (for she died, a week ago, aged 94) has a slightly farcical ring about it. Her certified causes of death are Hypertension, Old Age and Memory Loss. It reads as if she just forgot to go on living. More likely vascular dementia played a part. Abnormalities of this sort were detected in a brain scan about seven years ago, and her final years were marked by a number of TIAs (Transient ischaemic attacks) or mini strokes, from which she usually physically recovered, though there were new lapses in memory and ability.
But what is more striking than what she lost is what she retained: an iron certainty that she was right, and that the only way of doing things was her way. In my last blog this certainty applied to the control of the items on her overbed table and to her method of achieving quality control on her diet of chocolate buttons.
Here she is five years ago in another white-knuckle account I wrote then:
Shopping for my elderly mother: The quest for the perfect toothbrush 13 February 2007
I have searched every chemist in town for a small-headed Maclean’s toothbrush like the worn one I have been compelled to carry around in my handbag for the last week.
Eventually I go to the dentists’ and queue to ask if they have any of these toothbrushes (this is where Mummy says they come from, – but because they are no longer on visible display she did not ask for them when she went to the dentist last week). They sell me an OralB small-headed toothbrush which is very similar to the Maclean’s one. The assistant has worked there for eight years. She is quite definite that they have never sold Maclean’s toothbrushes.
I took the toothbrush round to my mother and handed it to her.
She gazed at it and laughed merrily. “Ha,Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” She chuckled.
I couldn’t muster such a cheerful peal however hard I tried.
She drew breath and laughed again.
“What,” I asked calmly “is so funny about it?”
“Oh, I’ve never seen one like it!” she replied.
I point out its similarity to her present Maclean’s tooth brush, which I fetch from upstairs. The small head is exactly the same size. The handle has one blue flash rather than three diagonal stripes. The handle, she says is very long. She has never seen such a long toothbrush.
I hold them side by side: once you subtract the packaging, the two toothbrushes are exactly the same length. So now we come to the bristles. This new toothbrush has the tufts of bristles cut on a slight diagonal so that they are longer at the front. The toothbrush she has just started using has them cut square. The manky brown-stained ex-toothbrush in my handbag has alternate pairs of long and short tufts.
But I can tell, it is not, and never will be, satisfactory. I tell her that the assistant at the Dentists’ says that they never did stock Maclean’s toothbrushes. She shakes her head emphatically with a knowing grin. She knows when she is being told a whopper.
Was this a symptom of dementia? Or was she just being herself?
She is awake in her chair and watching the TV. The sound is off. If it were on she would not hear it. She is deaf.
On her table is a substantial stack of broken fragments of chocolate buttons. There is also a pool of tea. The lipstick which always props up the chocolate-smeared emery board is particularly heavily smeared with chocolate.
I tackle the problem.
“You look in a bit of a mess here,” I say. I point to the buttons. “Do you want these?”
“No,” she replies, “they are old ones.”
“They are only broken” I say, “You are throwing away perfectly good chocolate.” But I collect a paper towel from the bathroom and clear up the heap of mauled chocolate. I wash the lipstick case in warm water and return it to its place. She seems accepting rather than grateful.
The situation is worse than I thought. A layer of milky tea has spread across the table, soaking under the lizard from Lanzarote, the Chinese serpentine frog on a lily-pad, the birthday cards from me and from my sister-in-law. I pick each up and wash the table with more paper towels. A j-cloth would be handy but Health and Safety regulations in the Nursing Home determine that only disposable materials may be used for cleaning by us amateurs, the relatives. We don’t even have the use of a drying up cloth or a washing up brush in the kitchen for fear we might spread contamination. As a result all the personally owned mugs become rimed with tannins, brownish in their crevices.
The tea on her table derives from my mother’s obsession with placing her empty mug on its side when it is finished, or in her words “dead”. It is not invariably completely empty when she makes this decision.
As I clean I pause to speak distinctly and slowly in her ear. “This- happens- because- you- insist-on putting- your -mug -down-on-it’s-side.” I say. She hears the words. “Possibly,” she replies, “ but I have found that it is best this way.”
When I am done, I water the flowers, restock her mini fridge with six packets of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons, and her cupboard with three bottles of Maple Syrup. Dementia likes sweet flavours. She has long taken maple syrup on her porridge. Now she demands it on her soup and pureed meals as well. One of the nurses is pregnant, nauseous, and cannot bear to feed my mother this mixture. She delegates lunch and supper feeding to other carers.
Poor old lady you think, unable to feed herself. But she is able. She simply elects not to. That is what the carers are there for.
Her room tidied, I sit down on the bed beside her. My gorge rises. There on the table is a new stack of nine or ten chocolate button fragments. With her right thumbnail she is deftly prizing two fused chocolate buttons apart and discarding the pieces. Little wonder many are stuck together. All day she sits with the bag tucked down beside her thigh. The buttons become warm. They stick together. She refuses to have them placed on a plate or little bowl on her table.
“You-are-breaking-your-buttons-again.” I state clearly.
“Yes, these are not suitable ones,” she replies, “they are old. I must throw them away.”
There is a response on the tip of my tongue. But I confine myself to telling her that she would never have allowed a child to waste food in this way. I, as a child, was not allowed to leave the table until I had eaten everything on my plate. “Waste is anathema to me.” she used to say.
She is unmoved by my reasoning. I am not sure that she remembers what a child is. I firmly suggest putting the buttons back in the fridge for a while so they will become firm again.
With dignity and force, she refuses. “No,” she says. “ I find it works better this way.”