When the early stages of dementia begin to present themselves it is a particularly devastating time for the patient and their family. Because symptoms can be so subtle and seem to appear and then vanish, family members often undervalue the severity of the problem. After all they look the same don’t they? There is no visible sign of their disease. And to make matters more confusing there are times when they are perfectly rational and able to function beautifully. This feeds into a family’s collective wishful thinking that none of this is really happening. They tell themselves, ‘We are overreacting. It is just a bad day. Soon things will be back to normal. Maybe this is just a rough patch. They are getting older after all.’ Driven by fear they create a kind of grand illusion that in the final analysis only wastes time, creates conflicts and delays constructive goal setting. Fear in this situation not only blocks us from reality but can place our loved one in jeopardy.
Helplessly watching someone you love slowly change and slip away is unfathomably sad and frightening. Each new symptom is like a punch in the stomach. The slowness of it only adds to your agony and increases your fear of what the future holds. I know this first hand, because I spent nearly ten years looking after my mother-in-law Nan, as she plummeted down through the chasm of this disease.
Fear is an odd and deceptive emotion, a chameleon of sorts. One minute it can appear as anger; the next as frustration. It has a negative impact on our behavior and feelings. When fighting dementia, fear often outruns our patience and taints our common sense, leaving us to march in futile circles around the same mountain again and again. Fear stifles our compassion and constructs insurmountable walls against the truth. Fear clouds our vision leaving us to search in the dark for answers that were in front of us all along.
In order to be effective in any sorrowful situation, we must face things as they really are, accept what we know to be true and keep moving forward one step at a time. Don’t feel defeated if you have spent too long consumed with worry for your loved one. It is never too late to work through your fears and quiet the negative voices that play in your mind. By sharing my experiences I hope to show you how to move forward in this process. I want to encourage you to offer yourself the same patience and compassion that you shower on your loved one. For it was only when I stopped being afraid of Nan’s future and how it was going to impact me, that I was able to accept her prognosis and open my eyes to the many blessing still present in her life.