Monday, 23 November 2015


There’s a warning sign at our local airport. I suspect it was inspired by a conversation a staff member had with my mother. 

Some years back - post 9/11 - I was queueing with Mum at the airline ticketing counter. 

As I lifted her luggage onto the scales the friendly staffer asked whether Mum had packed her own bags. By that stage my mother had been experiencing memory problems for several years.

“What sort of question is that?” she enquired.
“Just a security question, Ma'am.”
“Security?” said Mum. “For heaven's sake!”

My mother can be quite witty - biting even. But in this situation, where she was completely oblivious to the context, it wasn't the least bit funny. Things got worse when I tried to explain about the terror attacks.

“Of course I’m a terrorist - my bag's absolutely full of bombs!”

We were immediately marched off to the emergency counter for more detailed questioning. Once there I whispered something about Mum having Alzheimer's. All was forgiven.

But next time I visited the airport there was a sign. 'We take all jokes about security seriously. Police/authorities will be informed and criminal charges may apply. Your safety and security is our priority.'

Memory problems can get you into some sticky situations. As a carer, it’s hard to know what to tell people. Failing to forewarn can be distressing and confusing for all concerned. But other times I feel resentful. Surely I shouldn't have to tell people. Things should just unfold naturally.

But these days I’m going with the ‘forewarned is best’ policy, more often than not. For my own sake and Mum’s.

If people know she has memory problems they figure out how to have a mutually enjoyable conversation a lot more quickly. Without those awkward moments where you can see them thinking - 'I thought I just answered that.'

Of course you can't prepare everyone. Neither should you.

But for those tricky occasions when you're dealing with a shop assistant or a ticketing officer, it's great to have something up your sleeve. I now have a small business-sized card courtesy of Alzheimers Wellington. When things are going pear-shaped I slip it out of my wallet and discreetly slide it across the counter.

“My companion has an illness which causes memory loss and confusion. Please excuse any unusual behaviour.”

The customer service is transformed and Mum doesn't notice a thing.

I wish I’d had it with me, that day at the airport.

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