Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The medication monkey

When I was young, adults used to say the stupidest things. My favourite? “You’ve got a monkey on your back, young lady.”

Small children would glance nervously behind them, older ones would deny it, getting crosser and less cooperative by the minute. Ridiculous.

I’ve been struggling, these past couple of weeks, with Mum. And after all these years, monkeys have come to mind. She’s been constantly exhausted, grumpy and verbally aggressive. Then there’s the relentless negativity - describing everything and everyone as ‘boring’.

I’ve been doing my very best. Trying to separate the illness - Alzheimers’ - from the person. But it’s hard not taking the slights and the sullenness personally. And I’ve been wondering what it’s all about. Maybe this is what I’ve been dreading - a sudden, rapid deterioration in Mum’s condition.

On Friday afternoon, I pop round to the rest home and Bev the nurse takes me aside. She’s worried about Mum. So are the care staff. Every day, for more than a week now, it’s been almost impossible to get Mum going. She refuses breakfast and lies in bed all morning, declining numerous offers of help. At lunchtime she drags herself out of bed then retreats to her room as soon as it’s over. Straight back to the horizontal.

Bev and I agree that, of themselves, these behaviours aren’t unusual. As Alzheimers’ has progressed, my mother’s mood, energy and initiative have been increasingly affected. Mum has good and bad times - sometimes for an hour or so, sometimes for a whole day. But an ongoing pattern of passivity, negativity and hostile outbursts? That’s new.

Bev has a couple of theories. Maybe Mum’s medication regime is knocking her out. The anti psychotic and the sleeping pills no longer working for her. Or maybe it's what we both fear - a significant step in the process of cognitive change.

“I’ll talk to the doctor,” says Bev. “Suggest that he cuts back the sleeping meds and reviews the rest.”

Bev phones the following afternoon. The doctor has taken Mum off almost all her medication. As of last night.

Next day, Mum’s a different person. Up and dressed before the staff have knocked on the door offering to shower her. Greeting me happily when I breeze in after lunch. I find Mum perched on her bed, reading a magazine, dressed and ready for a trip out.

Her room looks different too.
“I had a bit of a sort out,” says Mum. Peggy squares and books are in neat piles and the photos and ornaments dusted and rearranged.


Mum and I spend a sunny afternoon exploring Ascot Street - one of the oldest roads in Wellington. Possibly the steepest as well. We peer over picket fences, admiring late blooming roses and japonica trees festooned with pear-like fruit. We rest on the seat where the road narrows from a tiny one-way street to an even smaller brick-edged path. We wander into shops, poring over fancy second hand shoes and handbags. “Consignment Boutique,” says Mum, reading the sign in the window. “Whatever next!”

Mum’s short term memory’s as bad as ever. It may even be worse.
“Where are you from?” asks the chatty shop assistant. “Wellington,” says Mum. “I’ve lived in Wellington my entire life.” Fifty two years of rural living temporarily wiped from my mother’s memory. But she’s happy and mentally energetic, if a little puffed.

Searching for a tea shop we arrive at a cosy pub, where we plonk ourselves down in the courtyard. We order tea and sit, soaking up the late afternoon sun.

“I’ve had such a lovely afternoon,” says Mum. “Not just lovely but interesting too. I’ve spent years walking round Thorndon. But I’ve never been up that street.”

For now, the monkey’s gone.


  1. Lovely story. You do such a great job caring for her.

  2. As we age I enjoy seeing glimpes of my possible life.My mother is 98 and our days together are growing fewer. I remind myself that in 20 years I will be my mother.
    Be kind, be gentle and enjoy whatever is offered.
    Your writings are an inspiration to those of us with aging family and friends.