eblacklerThe first signs were subtle and easy to ignore. Dad was living alone, driving, paying his own bills, buying groceries, keeping his house clean, and mowing his own lawn. He seemed to be on top of things. Sometimes he would repeat the same story twice within an hour, or ask the same question shortly after I had answered it. I contributed that to his age and thought nothing of it.

I began to notice that his usually meticulous appearance had gotten a little sloppy. Dad was retired from the Air Force after a long career as a flight mechanic. He now spent his days working around his yard and puttering in his garage. I told myself he had a right not to shave, or to loaf around the house in wrinkled shits and shoes without socks if he wanted to.

Everything changed one summer afternoon in July. My phone rang, and when I answered it I almost didn’t recognize the voice on the other end. Dad sounded frantic and confused. He asked me to come over right away, so I jumped in my car and sped over to his house. I pulled in the driveway and saw him hovered over his lawnmower. He was covered with sweat and grease, his hair had not been combed, his clothing was disheveled, and he was barefooted. The lawn mower was completely disassembled and laid in parts all over the driveway. He had a puzzled look on his grease covered face. He looked at me and began to cry. “I can’t fix it,” he whispered. “I was trying to change the spark plug.”

The dementia seemed to progress rapidly from that day on. As Dad’s cognitive abilities began to decline, I had the task of telling him he could no longer drive. His fury and frustration with that announcement was sad and difficult for him to accept. I had to assume the responsibility for things like banking, bill paying, and grocery shopping.

We had a family meeting and decided we would keep Dad in his own home for as long as we could. My husband, daughters, sister and I worked out a schedule that assured someone would stop by his house each day to visit and check on him. Our system worked for almost six months.

Dad was becoming more confused and disoriented with each passing day. We had to cook meals and take them to him. We were afraid to let him use the stove.

He stopped bathing without prompting, and his basic hygiene skills were greatly diminished. We knew it was time to re-think our system when a neighbor called us to report that she had found Dad standing at the busy intersection near his house. He was confused, scared, and unable to find his way home.

Dad moved in with us that weekend. He didn’t understand the move or why he couldn’t go home. Since we had always lived near each other, there had never been a reason for Dad to spend the night in my home. He paced all night long. I dozed off in the early morning, and awakened in a panic. Dad was gone. As I frantically searched the house, I saw that the back door was unlocked. I found Dad sound asleep in my car.

Three months have passed since Dad moved in with us. He seems settled now, but still has days of extreme restlessness and anxiety. Sometimes he seems to know that his mind has failed him, and he lays on the sofa for hours, staring at the ceiling. There are times when he gets so frustrated and angry that he lashes out by attempting to hit or kick me as I try to help him to the bathroom or assist him with a meal.

Dementia has taken my father from me, and left me caring for this towering, fragile stranger. I love him with all my heart, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

We have a new system now. I try to care for him with the same love and patience he had for me when I was his little girl. I once depended on him to meet my every need, and now our roles are reversed. We hold hands when we cross the street. I wipe his mouth as I feed him, and delight in his smile of gratitude for his favorite cherry pie. I tuck him into bed at night, and sometimes read him a story, or sing a soft lullaby to help him fall asleep.

Our journey through life has taken us to a bittersweet place of unexpected simple joy, and unspeakable sorrow. As I said, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Nisha Sharma represents a site called MHA.org.uk. She enjoys writing about elderly health care and dementia.

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2 Responses to “Caring for a Loved One with Dementia”

  1. Carole M. Di Tosti (@mercedeskat45) Says:

    Ny heart goes out to you. My father was living by himself and was OK. He began to go downhill after he received Lupron a treatment for elevated prostate levels. The PSA test was used indiscriminately to deliver surgery, radiation, chemo (Lupron is a form) to men with elevated PSA levels. Non aggressive treatment is to let well enough alone, because the prostate condition in elderly men is so slow, it is better to do no harm then treat it.

    My sister-in-law, a nurse who was pro medical profession pushed us to push him to the Dr. and then the PSA and then his getting the Lupron shot once a month. From that his pristine immune system (up to 90 he was taking no meds) started to quiver and respond to the Lupon which depleted him of wonderful health, affected his kidneys, etc., into a decline which five years later took his life. His memory was also impacted. He never went into a nursing home, though. He was at home and with an aid, my brother and I took care of him 24/7 for 21/2 years. It has been 15 years since he died. A week or month doesn’t go by but that I think he was gradually poisoned by the medications. He died of liver failure. Since his death, I am a complete advocate for holistic treatment…I eschew the medical industrial complexes proclivity to dispense with the ready meds, though the side effects are horrific…and in the elderly contribute to dementia, confusion, dislocation, etc. It sounds like your father’s condition is different, but I do know that doctors overprescribe meds willy nilly for children and the elderly. It happened to my cousin and my Dad and other elderly individuals I know.

    Good luck to you. I found prayer and plenty of reading alternative medical literature to be helpful for me. Ten years later the man that developed the PSA test wrote a scathing editorial in the NY Times condemning how the PSA test has been used against men to enrich their doctors…performing unnecessary surgeries, radiation, etc., etc. Would we have given Dad the Lupron if this man had vilified the profession for its over use of this test? No; I could have pointed to this to his doctor and said, “No more.” I don’t think the profession has changed, any, either. A Sloan Kettering doctor said to me, concerning my father’s dementia after taking the Lupron something to this effect. “Well, my Dad is on it also. If his memory isn’t good, at least he’s alive in his 90s.” Was she telling me the truth? I don’t know. I took my lead from her. In retrospect, my intuition and my brother’s intuition was sounder than all these professionals pronouncements. Now, I am reading about alternative medicine, holistic medicine and alternative treatments as well as organics, non processed foods, etc.

    Be careful and question your doctors. What meds is he on? Are they the right dosage? Are they impacting his immune system? his psychological well being? Is he eating OK and drinking enough? All this matters when the immune system is impacted. Even dehydration impacts ones mind. Don’t just make assumptions but think and watch…why is this happening so quickly? What are his nutrition levels, enzymes, electrolytes, etc. Medications deplete and destroy good nutrition…they leach calcium from bones…and have a tremendous impact that doctors are often clueless about. Please read up whatever you can, especially about nutrition. God Bless.

  2. CathyC Says:

    What a brave and good daughter you are to care for him. I hope your husband is understanding. My your Dad go quietly in the end to a lasting rest.

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