By Kathy Finley, Director of Family Services at Concierge Care
Dementia, it truly is the long goodbye. Dementia is a personality and memory robbing disease that can affect people as young as their early 60s. My mom has dementia, she is 87 years old. She moved to Seattle from Arizona in 2005 after being the caregiver for my father for seven years when he died from Multiple Sclerosis. She moved into an independent senior community and thrived for many years.
It was probably about six years ago that we began to notice changes, especially in her memory. Slowly, old memories disappeared. She couldn’t remember my Dad, forgot old friends in Arizona, and then started forgetting appointments for doctors, hairdressers and family get-togethers. About a year ago she began to forget who my husband was. He would sometimes help with doctor appointments and he would have to remind her who he was at the door to pick her up. She would try and cover her lost memories and say “yes of course” whenever it seemed appropriate.
Though I have been in the senior industry for almost 10 years, it is still hard when it is your loved one. She has done some things that she would be horrified to know about; walking into other people’s apartments thinking it was her own; taking a taxi to a medical clinic she had never been to before because she saw an advertisement on the TV; falling down as she tried to get back to bed from the bathroom, thereby breaking her arm and not being found until the next morning. Also, simple things such as not being able to make heads or tails of a menu at a restaurant. She is now at an Adult Family Home as she is not safe to be in an apartment by herself.
I went to visit her the other day and I was amazed at how many chunks of her life were just gone. She keeps thinking that I am moving to Florida because one of her caregivers with a similar name moved there. I told that she used to live in Florida. “I never lived there!” she exclaimed. I reminded her that she lived there with my dad for four years until they got tired of the hurricanes. There was a spark there. She did remember the hurricanes! She doesn’t remember living for nearly 20 years in Arizona. I asked her about a recipe that she used to make back on the farm where she grew up. “Oh, they never let me cook anything,” referring to my grandmother and great aunt when she was little. She had forgotten that I grew up there too.
Sadly, she then she asked me how many children I have? She only has one granddaughter who is 23 and the memory of her is going also. It can be frustrating, but I have to remember that she didn’t ask for this disease and I try to go along with her daily journey. Each week I see more memories say good bye. I am happy to say that she is a lady that people call “pleasantly demented”. She doesn’t yell, hit or bite others. She reads her New York Times and bosses around her gentleman friend (also with dementia) who lives at her adult family home. Every week is a “new normal” for her and for us.