“Some types of dementia are characterised by inappropriate behaviour and by the loosening of normal social restraints.”
But what’s appropriate – and who decides?
We take the 15-minute walk to the shops most days. Not always because we need to, but because it gets us out of the house. And because the exercise is good for Lena. And because a man can never have too many buns.
But shopping’s hard, harder now that Lena’s Alzheimers has moved so much further on. While I’m browsing the shelves, she’s browsing the people. She sees a couple who look friendly and tags along with them. If I lose concentration for 5 seconds, she can get to the other side of a sizeable department store, totally lost, before I can find and catch her. I don’t know where she gets the sudden burst of speed from.
The supermarket trolley, that’s another distraction. People really need to learn not to leave them unattended, because as soon as Lena sees one in the wild, it’s hers.
– Lena! Come back. That one’s not ours. Ours is this one.
I rescue the stolen trolley and mutter an embarrassed apology as I hand it back to its owner. I can see the woman puzzling – why would anyone want to make off with her shopping before she’s even paid for it? But she sees the funny side of it, and she’s laughing.
Less-than-waist-high children, they’re Lena’s favourites. At that height, they’ve still not lost their trust in adults. Aha, here’s a perfectly-sized little girl. So what if this lady’s speaking to her in a language she doesn’t understand? … All grown-ups speak funny, don’t they? And the lady’s got a nice smile. So the little girl smiles back shyly, looking Lena straight in the eye. Meanwhile, I’m nervously hoping the parents don’t notice, shuddering at the thought that if Lena had been male, she’d probably have been arrested by now. I take her arm firmly and try to hustle her away.
– Hon är så söt!
– Yes, she is sweet, isn’t she? Now, shall we get some bananas?
We’re at the check-out counter, and Lena has picked up the milk bottle that’s been placed there by the people queuing behind. I take it from her and put it back. She turns round to them, smiles and starts up conversation. I know it’ll be in Swedish, with a sprinkling of those special plinky-plonky words that Lena gets into every sentence these days. I squeeze her hand, pull her close to me, and hiss:
– Concentrate, Lena. Concentrate. Here. Do you want to hold this bag?
She takes it, and then turns back to the people again, smiling ruefully. But she’s not talking now. Good, I’m thinking. At least nobody will be embarrassed.
So finally the shopping ordeal is over, we’re heading home, and I can start to relax. It’s been a big shop today and the bags are heavy, so I’m head down, eager to get home. I barely notice the guy coming towards us – it’s not anyone we know anyway. But Lena thinks she knows everyone, and gives him a big smile. He gives the smile right back.
– Hello love. Y’all right?
– Yeah, I’m fine.
And in that moment, I’m suddenly wondering … who’s the one with the inappropriate behaviour?
Or to put it another way, if we were all a bit less appropriate and loosened some of those normal social restraints, wouldn’t the world be a better place for it?
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