My mother-in-law’s diagnosis of dementia forever changed the lives of everyone in our family. I remember sitting with my husband in a row of metal chairs along the hallway in the medical facility while she was being examined by a geriatric neurologist. It seemed to take an eternity. Finally the doctor emerged from the scan room and told my husband and me, “She has significant brain shrinkage indicating dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. There is not much we can do at this point. There are medications, but their effectiveness is questionable. Her situation is progressive and will probably worsen over time.”
Neither one of us was surprised. Our concerns had finally been verified. Then two questions immediately came to mind. First, how were we going to provide her with the care she was going to need in the future? And secondly, how were we going to help Nan understand the reality of her diagnosis? It was in these mind-numbing moments that I began my journey into the complicated world of dementia care. Its complexities were unimaginable and I knew its future was unpredictable. And I was afraid; afraid for Nan and afraid for us. The only thing I knew for certain was that Nan’s cognitive skills were diminishing at an alarming rate and she needed help now.
Watching Nan slip down through the stages of dementia has been like witnessing two deaths simultaneously. I know this may sound emotional counterintuitive. Either someone is here or they are not. But this is not the case when someone suffers from dementia. A schism occurs between the mind and the body.
I don’t know when Nan began to separate from the world. I cant put my finger on the time when her disease finally overtook her mind, and I don’t know if it even matters. But I do know that it seems to have happened in the blink of an eye, sometime when I wasn’t looking. Dementia will trick you like that. It distracts you with its initial symptoms that send you scurrying about on endless missions to solve daily problems and search for cures. It sneaks up behind its victims and snatches them while you are busy making sure that they are taking their medicine correctly and eating a balanced diet.
I wish I had a way to spare you the highs and lows of the acceptance process. I wish that I could catapult you past the pain and make you see the happiness that is possible even in the light of all that you are facing. But I know that is impossible. So instead, through this blog I will give to the gift of the lessons that I have learned and hopefully, in the end, they will make all the difference.