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When do we call the fire brigade?

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Topics: 
carers, dementia awareness
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I am on a suburban London train and eavesdropping on a conversation behind me in an almost-empty carriage. The two ladies are in their sixties, I'd guess, discussing their families. I give up trying to read and settle in to listen to them, marvelling at how articulate they are, admiring the fully-formed paragraphs that they deliver, without hesitation or repetition. I surmise that they are old friends who see each other only occasionally so are bringing each other up to date with the personal relationships that define their lives. Christmas plans - who goes where and why - then a bit about the employment situation of the younger generation, but nothing crass like salaries or occupations, simply whether they are happy at what they do.  They move on to the sons and daughters 'inlaw', and even how they get on with the inlaws' parents, all in a generous and positive spirit, uncritical and complimentary. 

Then the conversation turns to dementia as so often happens. These educated, perceptive and kind women each describe a parent: the gradual memory decline, the steps they took to help, the things they wished they'd done or done sooner, amusing anecdotes arising from forgetfulness, and the Problem with Paid Carers. The central conviction on which they concur is that 'you can't live their lives for them'. A sigh of regret.  Then they recall several mutual acquaintances ... (aha they must be former neighbours, because they have both known the same people at one time).  Well, so and so no longer answers the phone, and there is concern about her across the neighbourhood.  The speaker clearly implies that dementia is taking its toll on a woman who lives alone.  'You can't live their lives for them' hangs over the exchange. The women tacitly absolve one another of responsibility for the neighbour's welfare. 

It's clear that unless her house were burning down they would not feel obliged to act. We're English you see, we don't interfere in other people's lives.

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