My daddy had dementia and I was honored to care for him and spend a lot of time with him for the last 3 years of his life. This gave me the life experience, along with years of working in hospitals, nursing homes and with geriatric populations. As far as education, if this were all not enough, I am also a doctor of audiology with extensive training on geriatric diseases and problems and psychology, as well as having a bachelor’s of science prior to that in premedicine with training in this arena also.
All that to say, I know dementia/Alsheimer’s Disease (one type of dementia). I know a lot about it and can answer any questions anyone has, just ask in the comments and I will answer you.
But I wanted to do an educational lesson on dementia because it is very prevalent in our older generation and creeping into earlier generations also now. Robin Williams, Lord rest him, brought attention to dementia also, which he suffered from and caused his severe depression and anxiety and suspicion, leading to his taking his own life.
Dementia is an attack on the brain. It is affected partially by neuronal degeneration and partly poor circulation/blood/nutrient flow. Different neural connections affecting the start to misfire and occipital orbit of the brain (the back area of the brain where memories are stored), eventually effecting even involuntary regions of the brain (hippocampus) down deep and the body forgets how to function and death ensues. Due to a number of genetic and environmental factors and variations within every person, the rate at which this happens varies tremendously, lasting from a decade (or more and that longer duration is generally with medication- Gingko Biloba the best over the counter treatment and perscriptions newly developed) to year(s) in duration.
During the progression of the illness, the person’s managers start to shut down and automatic or knee jerk reactions take place, along with the frustration of not remembering and realizing something is wrong, so tempers can flare irrationally. Depression sets in until they no longer remember what they were depressed about. The entire time, all symptoms come and go. Memory comes and goes. Why? Because as neural connections break, the brain still tries to reroute those synapses and still work again. This happens until the options to reroute are expended.
Dementia is progressive, how progressive depends upon treatment and genetics and personal environment during their lifetime.
In my dad’s case (and again, every case is different), he was angry and depressed at first and later was happy and just pleased as punch to have someone there taking care of him, becoming like a kid again. I think he saw me as his mother or at least a caregiver at the end. Many other patients have had to be fed. Daddy only got to that point at the end, the last week really. So again, very individualistic.
What can you do? Work with the treatment plan. Help them take medication because they will forget or remember they took it when they did not. Make sure they bathe for real and not just say so. Make sure they brush their teeth. Make sure they eat and drink and not just say so. They are not lying, just are remembering wrong. Make sure they sleep (schedules also become flipped, where they want to sleep in the day and stay up at night). Make sure they are safe, not trying to get up if falling is a risk (-for us this was when we finally sought a nursing home and hospice, you simply cannot be there 24/7 when their sleep schedule is upside down.)
Checklists work in early stages and work for the caregiver all the time.
Be a listening ear. Their stories are real to them. Their dreams are as real as their reality. Play along. They will remember what happened in their childhood much better than what recently happened. Just go with it. I always came into the room with a big smile and hug and a greeting “Hi, Daddy, your daughter Tonya is here!” Some days he would remember who I was and some days he wouldn’t, but regardless he would always say “I know who you are” and laugh. Keep things light and let them feel and normal as possible. Honor them by treating them with dignity and love. God is giving you the blessing of their past and presence until He calls them home. Praise Him for this. And get some exercise and time alone with God.❤