James Thellusson writes for Age Space about the experience of his mother’s delirium.
My Mother, aged 96, moved in with our family two years ago. For most of this period, she remained fiercely independent and as sharp witted as she always has been. Then this year, she became more frail and quieter.
There were more moments when she seemed confused about where she was or what was going on around her. She couldn’t always find the right words and, occasionally, would mistake who people were. But these moments would pass. She’d go back to her normal sociable and vibrant self.
We put these incidents down to her aging and we didn’t think anything was seriously wrong. We didn’t take them as signals of any underlying problems like delirium or dementia. Then, one day, I found her sitting in an armchair in front of the TV, shaking uncontrollably. She said to me: ‘What’s happening? I don’t know what’s happening’. She was very scared.
As she spoke she slipped out of the chair and I had to catch her before she fell onto the floor. Once I got her up, I gave her water and wrapped her in a blanker. She seemed to stabilise and I called the doctor, who knows her well. They were very responsive and diagnosed a urinary tract infection and, I think, within an hour I picked up the prescription from our local chemist. The antibiotics worked very quickly and things went back to normal. It was a great relief to know what the problem was.
I say things went back to normal but, in fact, that day changed our outlook completely. We began to watch her behaviour more and worked harder to get her to eat and drink more as this seems to help reduce the risk of a UTI. I wish I had been more aware of delirium sooner. It’s less scary when you have some sense of what is happening. It’s easier for you to stay calm. Ditto the person suffering it.
And, most importantly, it’s better to know what you have to do and you can get on with that calmly.
To be honest, delirium is one of a number of things which we all want to hide away from when it comes to old age. After all, who wants to discuss UTs with their Mother or Father? I certainly know my mother wasn’t keen to discuss it with me and I wasn’t that keen either. But I think forewarned is forearmed. And it isn’t just delirium. It’s dementia and care and a whole load of other related things. We need to be braver in talking about it. But I think, sometimes, the old British stiff upper lip gets in the way of living a better life as we get older.
Do you want information about delirium offline as well? You may be interested in our Downloadable Delirium Guide. You can print it out and keep it in your home, the home of your elderly relative, or share with friends and family.