Annie Bungeroth

Dementia...its a bit of a bugger!

Dementia will be an inevitable part of old age for many of us.

Expressions of angst surrounding old age dementia seem to be based on the premise that to lose some bodily functions will never be so bad, so devastating as to lose one's mind. Watching my fathers decline into dementia I have begun to question this. I realise that I may have to revise this opinion should he decline to a point where he might not even recognise me or should someone I know suffer prematurely from Alzheimers.


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Fred has declined at a fairly even pace over the last 7 years. I remember the first time I realised that dementia was setting in was as I waited for him to come through the baggage reclaim at the airport as he came to visit me in Barcelona. He was obviously confused and disorientated and I was begging the security guard to let me go and rescue him. We watched together as Fred tried to phathom his way through alien territory. Since then I have tried whenever possible to protect Fred but also I have got to know him and we have shared the hilarity which is very much part of his dementia. He was not always a tolerent man and we didnt always get on but now I have a great respect and fondness for him.

A few months ago I moved Fred to a residential care home close to where I live. When I am at home I visit him on an almost daily basis. I had never had so much contact with my father. I began to make short videoclips of Fred partly as a need to have a little something between me and him. As a photographer I am often dependent on my camera to help define my place in life so the small compact camera was neither too intimidating for him but gave a structure and purpose to my visits.

I then began to consider how I could use these videoclips. A straightforward short film didnt seem adequate to describe the process of memory loss. Having recently been introduced to the Korsakow system I immediately began to see its potential as a way of describing a process which has no system or timescale. I have no idea what I will find whenever I go to visit him: sometimes he is totally coherent and it takes a few minutes for him to show even the slightest hint of memory loss, other times he speaks with an accent which has nothing to do with his background, he often is involved in a stream of consciousness from which he will barely allow himself a moments break to greet me and on other occasions he switches to french sometimes for long periods of time and wont communicate with anyone who cannot respond to him.

I am editing the short video clips that I have shot to date. Unfortunately many of them are very short so I have to decide whether to edit certain sections together. Many of the longer clips have quite alot of my interventions and for this piece I have decided to edit myself out. In further pieces I will probably include myself so as to be able to talk more about our relationship- I now believe that the person with dementia does not suffer unduly because of their condition but often those around suffer more as they watch the person close to them change and deteriorate until often they cannot recognise their closest friends and family.

It is very important for me to retain my fathers dignity whist showing the randomness and uncertainty of memory loss as well as sharing the humour with which he confronts his condition. I have used certain aspects of the Korsakow system to highlight traits of dementia. As dementia progresses memory fades and the videoclips start to disappear. Repetition is a familiar part of dementia and so certain videoclips keep reappearing. As the user navigates around the piece it is possible that they leave the cursor over a preview movie whilst the main movie is playing and thus they create a jumble of dialogue as 2 soundtracks play together. With time they will realise that they have to help Fred out a bit and be more careful with the cursor.

I will continue to shot more clips probably with a video camera as I realise sound might be a problem as everything I have shot today is on a digital compact camera. For now I have used the footage I have to produce a preliminary piece during the workshop.