Living and laughing with Alzheimer’s and dementia

Every day for six years, Michelle Wyatt‘s father sat devotedly by his wife’s side in the dementia ward. Wyatt tells the intimate story of how she and her family coped with their mother’s disease with love, compassion, and lots of laughs.

Mum would say things like: ‘If I ever end up like your nanna, put me in a home and throw away the key.’

She would say that and we’d all laugh and it was hilarious, never really expecting it to happen.

If you do have a loved one in a nursing home and you see comical things happening, it’s OK to smile about it.


For the longest time, even though I probably knew that it was coming, I denied it, and I think my dad did as well. So we dismissed some of the early signs.

By the time mum had full-blown Alzheimer’s, we had missed the boat in terms of trying to really work with her on how we could help make the journey a little bit easier.

Life at the nursing home

Dad was worried that something would happen to her.

He would get up and sit with her from eight in the morning, be there all day, and then leave there at eight o’clock at night. He just wanted to make sure she was being fed, being looked after.

Part of me thinks that mum knew dad was there the whole time, because they had such a strong bond, and she would react to him a little bit. She couldn’t really acknowledge us at all.

We would try and talk to her or get some answers out of her, but that’s one of the hardest things with Alzheimer’s—not knowing what is going on in their mind.

Every single night I’d call Dad and say: ‘Hi Dad, how are you?’ ‘Good.’ ‘How’s Mum?’ ‘Good. She did everything she had to do.’ I guess just breathing constitutes that.

Then I’d say: ‘And how was your day?’ And he’d say: ‘You know what, they’re not right in the head in here.’

The power of laughter

With people whose family members are dealing with Alzheimer’s, often the conversation ends up being about the nursing homes—the place where their loved ones are cared for, and all the funny things that happen there.

Having these conversations, you always end up laughing. Everyone can relate!

Everyone has somebody that steals something at the nursing home, or runs around with no pants on.

As tough as it is, it’s always nice to sit there and say, ‘This is a little bit funny and it’s OK to laugh.’

Not that you are laughing at them, but you are laughing at the situation.

One time, I saw a couple walking around the corridors holding hands. I walked up to a carer and said: ‘They look like a lovely couple. What’s their story?’

‘Oh, they’re not together,’ the carer said. ‘They’ve found each other in the last day or two and they think they are.’

There was one guy in Mum’s nursing home named Bobby, who used to be a fisherman. He would sit in his wheelchair and just cast out an imaginary line every day, all day—just sit there and flick his wrist.

We’d all go past and say: ‘Are they biting, Bobby?’ And he’d go, ‘Aye, aye, they’re biting.’

He was this old Scotsman. It was nice to see people go back to these other parts of their life; they seemed to be quite happy and content in that era.

Gladys, an unlikely love story

One dementia patient, named Gladys, was quite adamant that my dad was her property, and no one was going to come between them.

She knew we were his family. She even got on with my mum—and would always talk to her and see if she was OK—but she just loved Dad.

If he would get up, she would follow him; every time he turned around, she would be behind him; every night when he would leave, she would be on the balcony waving to him.

Gladys loved him. She absolutely loved him. It was just gorgeous to see their relationship.

I think sometimes Dad got a bit frustrated that she occasionally got in the way when he was trying to look after Mum.

But she would always make sure that she was right at his elbow.

The importance of carers

My family is still friends with a lot of the carers that looked after Mum. They do an amazing job.

It’s thankless most of the time—in dementia wards especially. A lot of the patients are non-verbal, and a lot of them can be quite aggressive towards you.

At my mum’s funeral, they were probably 10 to 12 carers from the nursing home that turned up, because it was like family.

Dad spent so much time in that nursing home, he saw the carers more than he saw his own family. You develop these bonds with the people that are just amazing.

Not all fun and games

Alzheimer’s and dementia aren’t easy things to go through, and 99 per cent of the time it’s depressing and sad and gruelling.

It’s a terminal illness, and there’s no cure for it. Unless you know someone who is going through it, you don’t really understand the severity.

You are seeing a loved one lost in their own little world, and you can’t get anything out of them.

For my family, it was important to be there when we needed to be there, to go along the journey, but also to take a moment to stand back.

If you do have a loved one in a nursing home and you see comical things happening, it’s OK to smile about it: everyone is going through it.

No one is going to think worse of you if you say, ‘That guy running through the room with no undies on can be pretty funny, if you just think about the situation.’

It makes you feel like, you know what? Everyone is different and it’s OK.

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