Mothering my mum

Boitumelo Maswabi
DOTING DAUGHTER: Tsholofelo Seeletso-Manthe

…the dementia dilemma

Tsholofelo Manthe is the primary caregiver for her 70-year-old mother, diagnosed with stage 4 dementia in 2021 after suffering a major setback when she defaulted from her medication following the Covid-19 movement restrictions.

The married 47-year-old moved back in with her mother as the sole daughter of her mum’s four children.

Keen to raise awareness of dementia, Manthe (nee Seeletso) sits with Voice Woman to talk about her journey caring for a mother (an industrious retired human resources manager), who is battling the incurable disease that affects memory, thinking and social abilities.

As many celebrated Mother’s Day on Sunday, Manthe longed for the heart-to-heart conversations she used to enjoy with her once extraordinary mum.

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The Serowe native’s mother was a model parent who adored not only her own offsprings but her siblings and niblings (nephews and nieces) in equal measure, a quality Manthe strives to emulate.

“I believe I get the inspiration to care for my mum from her as she was a selfless mother, always going the extra mile for her family despite a background fraught with unfavourable circumstances. She got divorced from my father when I was in Standard 5 but remarried a decade later. Dad also went on to marry, so mine was a blended, close-knit family, despite dad working in Jwaneng; my stepmum and stepdad were quite supportive.”

12 years ago, Manthe mum’s world came crashing down when she lost her significant other, Rre Modisenyane, the onset of a depressive state that saw her slowly fading away from her children.

Her decline was difficult to watch.

“Mum was a pillar of strength to everyone. She told us her folks convinced her to leave school after Form 3 to start working so she could help raise her younger siblings, which was common in those days. She would later put herself through school till she obtained a master’s degree. She juggled caring for her children, school and church commitments pretty well thus she was deeply nurturing and had a strong sense of community. However, after losing her husband, she became unusually reserved, withdrawn, busying herself with diversions to fill the void occasioned by the loss of a spouse. Whenever we visited, she’d make it known she had more pressing matters to attend to, so much so that by the time my youngest was around eight years old, or thereabouts, she’d grown accustomed to that behaviour,” she says, glancing over at her mum, who stands at the door staring absent-mindedly into the distance, humming hymns happily.

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With her mother’s conduct becoming increasingly erratic, Manthe realised something was off.

“Mum would occasionally complain about recurring headaches. I alerted my brothers and we arranged for her to see a headache specialist, who ran all the necessary tests, including a CT and MRI scan. The results showed that some of her brain cells were dead. The doctor explained the implications of the results and prescribed medication to slow down the progression of the disease. He explained the symptoms we observed over time were indicative of dementia and that ignorance around the disease was rife locally. For example, in rural areas, especially, older people would wander aimlessly into the streets at night only to be labelled witches, which meant I had to do further research,” reveals Manthe, pausing as her mum calls her attention to a character on the telly, referring to them as Manthe’s uncle.

When the first lockdown was announced, Manthe’s mum was living at her retirement home in Tati Siding; she was cut off from her children.

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“Sadly, we were unable to secure a permit for her to be moved back to Gaborone, a traumatic period for us. The helper reported that mum’s medication had run out and she sank further into depression, always crying, and we were helpless,” she explains between sobs…

*Catch Part Two in next week’s issue.

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