On my first day at the dementia day care centre, there were about twelve women sitting quietly in the main room having coffee and biscuits.
Betty, sitting next to me, pointed to the row of women opposite and said
‘Look at that. Have you ever seen a group of women so quiet?’
I explained they had all just been brought in by mini bus- as had Betty herself- and were a little tired and needed to settle in before the mornings activities. Betty repeated
‘Have you ever seen a group of women so quiet? They must have given them GLUE.’
If the media headlines are to be believed, older people with dementia are a drain on the tax payer and a burden on society which fed into my Atwood-esque response. As I pondered the role of the novelist in this dementia writing project, I imagined a dystopian fiction where the politicians, the economists and the scientists all collude to silence the frail, the old and the demented with GLUE stirred into their coffee.
Fortunately Betty diverted my attention as she said
‘I’ve had more fun at a funeral’.
Several times she reached out with a frail hand, hesitated as she picked up her empty cup, stared into it and put it down again.
‘Have you ever seen a group of women so quiet? They must all be dead but just can’t be bothered to lie down.’
Trying to reassure her that there would be interesting activities after coffee failed as she pleaded in her Geordie accent:
‘I wanna gang yam’ (I want to go home).
When I asked what she would rather be doing, she did not reply but repeated the same statements again and again, as if she had a CD in her head that was stuck on ‘Replay /Shuffle’.
At the end of the session, I rushed to my laptop to capture every word before (oh! the irony!) I forgot Betty’s unique view of the world.