70 Still Young: Instagram and fashion help family battle dementia

Photos: 70youngteaw / Instagram
Photos: 70youngteaw / Instagram

Archara “Taew” Na Ayuthaya has never let age define her sense of fashion. 

Before the 71-year-old woman was diagnosed with dementia, her wardrobe was filled with clothing in every color imaginable. As her memories began to fade, so did her sense of style. But her son, Narinintarakul “Nin” Na Ayuthaya, is helping her keep her fashion sense alive and memories sharp, documenting their day-to-day life on Instagram.

Here we sat down with Nin about their mother-and-son journey, and how they fight each day to overcome the challenges.

Tell us about 70youngteaw.

When we created the account, we were off the radar. I didn’t think that people would be interested in our story. One day, I brought her to an exhibition at Lhong 1919. She was wearing everything pink, from head to toe. A news reporter spotted her. We told her [the reporter] it’s just a typical day for us and a way to make use of my mother’s old clothes; I had grown up seeing her in colorful clothes all the time, and it pained me to see how she slowly stopped taking care of herself. She would only wear worn-out clothes while these really beautiful, vibrant items would collect dust. After the reporter shared our story, 70youngteaw gained a lot of followers.

When did you start noticing her dementia?

About two or three years ago, she started to become forgetful and needed assistance on basic things, like keeping appointments and day-to-day activities. But it became clear to me when we were on a trip to Phuket last year. Not only did she forget the flight’s departure time, she also struggled to get out of the washroom by herself.

Has your mother ever shared her concerns about memory loss with you?

No. I mean, she’s always had a positive outlook on life and never had many concerns. She’s the type of person who laughs with joy when she has a medical checkup and the doctor tells her that her blood pressure and blood sugar levels are in the normal range.

Was it difficult to accept your mother’s diagnosis?

I didn’t waste any time worrying about the diagnosis, but I did have a moment with myself, wondering how I could help her live with her condition. After returning from Phuket, [when we knew this was real], I started decluttering my house so that we could live together. For many patients with dementia, untidy spaces can pose extra burdens — they make it difficult to process or organize thoughts. [When she moved in], it wasn’t like we could blindly throw everything out. I spent a lot of time picking out old clothes from her wardrobe. Luckily, I’m a photographer and have worked for many fashion magazines, so I knew which clothes or fabrics to keep.

What have been the biggest challenges for you?

When we started living together, describing our house as a “war zone” would not be an exaggeration. Neighbors might have thought that I turned into a monster since they could hear me scolding my mother for taking a shower in front of our house. It wasn’t that I was angry with her, but sometimes I think we have to remain strict to help her recover. My grandfather also suffered from dementia. He stayed at the hospital and we hired nurses to help him, but I also noticed that he rarely had a chance to participate in everyday activities. He became like an old banana that slowly lost its color. I didn’t want that to happen to my mom, so I decided that we had to establish a system where my mother could remain active.

As her caretaker, how do you balance your responsibilities?

I’m always serious about my exercise. Even before my mother’s diagnosis, I always found time to go jogging or swimming regardless of my schedule. Since she started living with me, I’ve adapted my running schedule to fit with our new life. I’ll spend time walking from home to buy groceries, or run early in the morning or in the evening after she falls asleep. It’s not that I completely changed my lifestyle to match hers. We have to find a balance that lets us tend to our own lives, too.

Guide us through your mother’s activities.

We do anything that can boost her motor skills. Apart from our little photo sessions, she keeps a diary so that she can record some of our adventures and recall some of the fun we had that day. Even normal activities like watching television together can become a way to stimulate her mind. I’ll prod her with questions like, “what do you think about this cheetah?” or “don’t you think the stripes on its back look beautiful?” 

I also plan to take these little challenges to the next level. I want to see if her mind will let her do something that she has never done before, like horseback riding.

“I got scolded this morning since my writing went outside the lines again. I need to pull myself together, breathe in and out, and focus on keeping these letters neat and on the lines. I must not forget to draw the loop in every letter. MUST DRAW THE LOOP, MUST DRAW THE LOOP, MUST DRAW THE LOOP, MUST DRAW THE LOOP. My mind has become clear again, and everything should be alright if one retains his or her composure,” read Archara’s journal on Oct 10, 2021. 

Has her condition improved?

Before the lockdown, I always brought her to a food stall near my house to eat together. When the restrictions were lifted five months ago, the stall owner said to me that my mother had become more talkative, unlike the last time she saw her. Sometimes, she regains interest in some of her possessions. One time she brought up a ring and recalled how she once had a jewel crafter attach a diamond to it. I also hear her talking to herself about the things that happened in the past. It’s like she’s slowly regaining her senses, one step at a time.

This story originally appeared in BK

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