Dementia In Real Life

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.❤

The Forgetting

So today, I visited my Daddy as is my custom for 2 years now, as that is how long they have lived here and that is how long he has been sick. I am so thankful that I have been able to care for my daddy in his home as long as he could be there now in his new home in the nursing home where he can get 24 hour care. But today, for the first time ever, I was met with blank, empty eyes that did not know who I was. Dementia is a horrible disease and I knew this was coming, seeing it in so many patients and understanding the clinical aspects of it, syptoms, knowledge, I know more about this hateful disease than most people do. But. All my head knowledge flew out the window when my hero of my life, my sweet Daddy, my champion and the only man on the planet who has not betrayed me in some way, this man did not know me, his baby. It is rare that my emotions get the better of me. But I can tell you I am a mess. To my closest loves, I rarely unleash my heart, it is difficult for me because I feel so strongly and most cannot handle that. But. Right now, if I don’t let this sadness out of my heart, I may break under its strength. All day around people, no matter where I went, people were, good people, some amazing people that help, my sisters, my best friend, my children, all are amazingly important to me and helped so much but this therapy of screaming to the world in text that I thought I was ready for my Daddy to go to heaven but I am not. It about killed me that he diidn’t know me. My champion. Who will be my champion? Who could love me like that? No one can. I am not lovable enough for anyone else on the planet to love me like he has my whole life. I have been so fortunate to have such a Daddy. I have not always been the best daughter but he never stopped loving me so much that it gave me wings. I could never have accomplished all I have in life without his support and knowing he was there loving me, my hero. A girl needs a hero who she knows she can run to if it doesn’t work out and just be loved and taken in and held so tightly that no harm can get in. Why does this disease toy with us? It is a horrible thing. I lose him in seconds, in minutes, and it is not what it was. My base of support is crumbling and I am a lost little girl holding out her hand for her Daddy and Daddy can’t come this time. He is lost in his mind. He is fading away. And I am left here to watch him trail off. My tears flow as I write, my nose runs, my heart physically hurts me. Torture would be easier to take. Physical abuse I could handle better than this. This is a slow shredding of my heart. And I write this down not to torture you also but to voice words for pain that I cannot say the words to. My mouth cannot say but my fingers are my voice. Maybe you have such pain for whatever reason. Voice it somehow. It has to get out of your mind. It has to leave your body somehow or it consumes and becomes a stronghold or rift in the balance or change in your psyche. How you see the world can change if it stays in there. My tears are slowing as I type. I am realizing that the release of the emotion is as important as the capturing of them. Water flows in and must flow out. There must be balance. Where there is balance, the catcher is not thrown down when the next pitch comes in. And I realize that I still am loved. My support structure may no longer be one man, my Daddy, buuut it is many friends and family members and my love and those who love me and have shown such amazing support during this difficult time. And please continue praying as my mom has surgery to remove her breast cancer as well during all this. Life keeps going. It changes. When I was young, I thought everything adults did was mundane and repetitive and boring. HA!! I could use a little boredom right now. I wish I had been right. lol Laughter heals. I firmly believe that, there is proof. So, I will not live here, though I am definitely here for a visit with grief. I will visit but I will not live here. Dear God, please grant a fast transition through it!

Remembering the Forgetful

Daddy has dementia. He forgets now. He does not remember special days anymore. He does not remember what day or year it is readily. He does not remember how some people are connected. He remembers me. Daddy never forgot things or people until lately. He always knew everything about everything. He remembered everything at exactly the right time. He knew important dates. He reminded me of these things. Now I remind him. Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t. The majority of the time now, Daddy’s remembrances are of his family of 6 together in the farmhouse, working the land, milking the cows, fighting his (at the time of these remembrances) alcoholic father to keep him from hurting his mom because he was a mean drunk. He remembers God and his hope for heaven. He will go there one day. He has been dreaming about that with his vivid dreams. Daddy forgets much now. I help him remember. I help him remember to smile and laugh, something that thankfully comes easily to him now. I remind him of good times, moments with Uncle Buddy before he died young of leukemia, moments with Aunt Barb and Aunt MaryLynn, moments of singing at church, moments at the wheel of a tractor. I remind him to remember. I remember for us both. He feels useless now. I remind him of his power. He feels helpless. I remind him how much he always helped everyone. He feels dumb for forgetting. I remind him of his intelligence in working and fixing machines with no education for it. He remembers to love me. I remember to remind him that I love him and will always do so. I thank God for my time with this amazing man who forgets but will always be remembered.