Warden controlled flat; South Devon, 2007: With dementia dreams merge with reality.  A sufferer cannot tell the two apart.  The often surreal, mythical and sometimes downright scary scenes played out in dreams no longer sit in a twilight parallel universe.  They merge with the day-to-day events experienced during the waking hours.  At least that’s what happened to my aged, now deceased Dad as he sunk further and further into the mire before having to go into a home for the terminally bewildered.

This tale is of his time aged 88 years in a warden controlled flat by the sea. I had decided a drive along the coast as he didn’t get out a lot and thought a bit of sea air would do him a power of good. I should add that prior to the dementia kicking in he was a man who rarely swore.  Whatever, as I arrived to pick him up the conversation went thus;

“You alright Dad, you look a bit unsteady old chap?”

“What a fucking night I’ve had”.

“What’s up mate?”

“All fucking night, those fucking bastard Chelsea pensioners have been having a party in my front room.  Fucking loads of them, loud music and prostitutes as well – the dirty bastards.  I didn’t get a wink of sleep.”

“Sure you didn’t dream it Dad?”

“No I didn’t fucking dream it.  I’ve spent the last few fucking hours cleaning up the mess.  Beer cans everywhere; fag ends, and fucking used condoms.  The dirty fucking bastards.”

I checked Dad’s bin – it was empty.  His carpet was spotless.

“What sort of music?”  I idly enquired.

“Fucking bagpipes.  They had the fucking Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders band with them.  Never stopped playing.  You should have heard the noise.” 

“Why didn’t you just tell them to piss off,” I said playing along with Dad in order to attempt to get to the bottom of the matter whilst wondering how he had so readily pin pointed the specific regiment.

“Tell them to piss off?  Who do you think I am, fucking Hercules?  There were loads and loads of them.  I got a bit scared to tell you truth so I just stayed in bed.”

“Best we go out for a drive, don’t you think?” 

“Yes, I’d like that.”

On our drive out I tried to convince Dad that last night’s events were all a figment of his imagination, yet he was having none of it.  Such was the power of Dad’s vivid nocturnal hallucinatory fiction that very soon it supplanted the authenticity of the waking hours.  Like fledgling Cuckoos establishing a home of their own, his fantasies evicted or devoured what few brain cells that remained intact within the nest of his grey matter. Not only was my Dad on the Looney Toons team bus he’d now made it into the first team squad and was in the starting line up!

Then one day the old boy had a funny turn. He was in the Day Care unit in a local hospital when he collapsed.  I guess he was in the ideal place really.  He had had a history of these mini strokes caused by him having angina.  The duty doctor was called for immediately and Dad was sent over to the main hospital what with the local one having no serious casualty facilities.  He was only kept in for a couple of days before being released.  However, in his short time there he drove the nursing staff to distraction.   The problem was that he believed he was on a film set – with him playing the leading role!

“They will set up the camera again in a minute or two,” said Dad to Shirley (my wife) when she popped over to pay him a visit.

“What camera Jim?”

“The one for the film.  Surely you must know that?”

“You’re in hospital Jim.”

“Am I?   I don’t think so.   They’ll be sending my script down in a minute.  You can stay and watch if you like – as long as you keep quiet and out of the way.”

“OK Jim.”

And so it went on.  Shirley had a chat with one of the nurses who, exasperated said simply that no-one could get any sense out of the old boy.  She said he even thought he was on film when eating his lunch.  We thought it prudent to leave him thinking he was a born again Robert Mitchum (his favourite actor from the old days).  He got a bit upset when we tried to tell him otherwise.

A young lady, something of an expert in such matters visited Dad in hospital and after running a few memory tests put a report into Dad’s GP confirming that Jim Steeden had walked the plank of lunacy and was now drowning in the sea of his own fantasies – although she was a tad more eloquent than that.   After that he ended up in the care home where not long after he was to die in his sleep. Poor old sod.

As with the tale previously posted (see link below) I thought long and hard about going public with this one – the thing is I know he wouldn’t mind – in fact he’d have a laugh about the whole thing!




  1. I am so glad you DO share these ones, Mike; I find them comforting, in an odd kind of way. Beautifully written, immensely moving and, at times, funny; you have, once again, captured the bittersweet world of dementia so well. Thank you.

    1. I worry about this sort of thing yet think there is some worth in posting it – I had some very good reaction from others on my previous post; those who could see where I was coming from.

  2. I agree… glad you posted. I think many of us have had similar experiences. My mom recently passed on and toward then end was given to more subtle waking dreams, of family, friends, her Dad… visits from the past mixed with fantasy books she read. We actually just entered into the play so to speak and let her ponder and enjoy. But yea, it’s hard to see one slowly deteriorate, but its good therapy to get it out of your system in such an eloquent fashion. thanks…

  3. I find it remarkable that with dementia, he was able to remember his visions for so long and keep them up. I hope Shirley asked for his autograph. And I hope he wasn’t too disappointed when his script never arrived. I think the movie star role was a beautiful way to escape his situation, though the used condom dream was a horrid way to deal with inner demons. The poor boy must have been scared to death! I wish he was still alive. I’d love to give him a big hug! Excellent stories!

      1. My grandfather (dad) was on valiums for a while when he stopped drinking and during that time, he had all kinds of hallucinations or whatever about WW2. Several times we all had to lie on the living room floor so we wouldn’t catch a piece of shrapnel while we were being bombed. As a 13 year old kid, though, I thought it was pretty funny.

  4. I used to work in dementia care and an expert in the field who I was privileged to not only meet but to have to keep entertained waiting for a delayed flight for hours during which time i learned so much about the disease that I would have had to pay a fortune to find out… sadly.

    I asked her how do we know what it is like to have dementia. She said “Imagine we are sitting here now, it’s a sunny day, there are big plate glass windows, there is the smell of coffee, there are people bustling about the floor is grey vinyl and the seats are blue fabric. I know you are a colleague and as such I’m talking to you about what I know, my work, my passion. Beside me I have my briefcase which I can reach into and give you all manner of literature to read, to support what I’m saying… now fast forward 40 years and I have dementia. I’m in a care home, they encourage me into the dining room, the room has large windows, the sun is shining in, the floor is grey vinyl, the chairs are blue fabric, there are people milling about, I can smell coffee, I remember this place, I sit beside a care worker and start to tell her about my passion, my life work, she is you, my colleague as plain as you are you now. My mind has been triggered to a memory, only the memory is the present, in my memory I wasn’t eating, I was talking about my work in my demented reality I am confused as to why the colleague now wants me to eat and doesn’t want to listen to me talk about my life work, I think she’s rude after all she asked the question yet doesn’t want to listen to the answer, she thinks I’m crazy because I’m not eating and not cooperating and babbling about how the brain works, I reach for my briefcase to get some papers, it’s missing, someone must have taken it, I start to panic, my passport, my lap top, my purse, my work is in there, where is it? Who took it? I want to look for it, the care worker wants me to eat. How can I eat when my briefcase has been stolen, I think she’s insane she thinks I’m insane I get angry and frustrated and fearful, she feels challenged and stressed and powerless, the situation descends into chaos, I’m removed to prevent upsetting the other patients I’m put into my room, I still can’t find my briefcase….”

    I was always grateful for that time and that explanation at last I came close to understanding and when I studied Dementia Care Mapping I learned from so many more examples shared by fab instructors.

    1. Thank you for both reading and thereafter detailing in depth a definition by way of example. Certainly the thought process outlined mirrors much of what Dad went through – I can see that now that you’ve pointed it out. Truly appreciated.

  5. Thanks for this! This tale about your dad, like the other one with the phone, I’m sure do great tribute to your dad as well as to all people suffering from dementia. I really enjoyed reading this. It’s both funny and poignant, and in that sense very very human!

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