As Things Fade

Nishi Pulugurtha

Photo created by Susmita Paul
A gentleman in his late 70s keeps telling his daughter that he wants to go home, to his mother. When asked where his mother is, he says that she is in Patna. He then starts to speak of his naughtiness and how his mother scolds him. He speaks all of this as if it is in the present. He has a tabla teacher, he says, and the teacher will soon be arriving he says, so he has to be home, or else his mother will scold him. 

Another lady in her 80s is upset and begins to cry, when asked what is troubling her, she says that she is unable to find her mother. She is looking for her mother. When she is asked about her mother, she begins to speak of her parents, of her brothers running about, climbing trees, catching fish in her village. Mashima kept repeating the same thing over and over again and in her conversations she had no sense of time and place. She could not remember whether she had eaten or not, or what she had eaten.
These are people who are not making up stories, the stories are real. Only that they happened in the distant past. These are people who will not be able to recall what they ate a little while ago, maybe but can talk vividly about their childhood. They will then go on to talk about something absolutely disconnected. A bystander or an acquaintance might not be able to discern anything. The family member knows that the nerves in the brains that are causing all this tangling up, this jumbling of things. With the passage of time, it increases. 

The two examples that I refer to are of people who have dementia. September was World Alzheimer’s Month and 21st September was World Alzheimer’s Day. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. Named after the German German psychiatrist and pathologist Alois Alzheimer who discovered it, Alzheimer's disease is a neurological degenerative disease that usually begins slowly and worsens with the passage of time. Dementia is a broader term that is used to refer to brain disorders that affect memory, thinking and behaviour. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. Early symptoms of dementia are memory loss, difficultly in doing ordinary, familiar tasks, problems communicating and immense changes in personality.
There is no cure for dementia and certainly none for Alzheimer’s. One of the most common early symptoms of the disease is difficulty in remembering recent events. As the disease progresses, symptoms include difficulty with language and words, a sense of disorientation, a tendency to wandering off and getting lost even in familiar surroundings, depression and mood swings, loss of interest in activities that he/she might have earlier taken a great interest in, and an inability to take care of one’s daily needs. A person with Alzheimer’s slowly withdraws from family and society. Behavioural issues become prominent – however, it is not that their entire cognition is gone. In Covid_19 times, say for instance, the person would be listening to all the news about the pandemic, listen to people talk about it and that would make them agitated. They realise something is wrong and are unable to decide on what to do about it. This makes them agitated. Moreover, due to restrictions a number of their activities are affected. 

Change is one thing that disturbs anyone with dementia and Alzheimer’s, unfortunately, change is the common factor in our lives. Covid_19 is not a change but an upheaval and this has brought up great difficulties both for the loved one affected with it and for the caregiver. Amma who has Alzheimer’s Disease is completely quiet these days, she has forgotten to talk. However, there is a faint response when I call out to her and talk to her. As she sits and looks around gently, her hand slowly reaches out. It reaches out to anyone who sits beside her, holds on to the dress, the saree for quite some time. I guess she possibly realizes that we are living in a strange and troubling time. 

22nd January 2022

NISHI PULUGURTHA is an academic and writer based in Kolkata. Her publications include a monograph on Derozio (2010), a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019), an edited volume of essays on travel, Across and Beyond  (2020) and a volume  of poems, The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems (2020). Her recent book is a collection of short stories, The Window Sill (2021) and a second volume of poems is forthcoming. She also writes on Alzheimer’s Disease. 

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