My mother, who is now 82, was diagnosed with dementia 1 1/2 – 2 years ago. I remember leaving the doctor’s office with her. Driving in relative silence back to her home as she clutched the receipt for her visit in her hand. She looked down at it, read the word “dementia” written in as the reason for her visit and said, “I hate this.”
For at least a couple years, she’d been increasingly forgetful. She’d repeat herself, forget appointments. But really, who among us doesn’t? She kept a calendar on the fridge for appointments and a notepad by the phone so she could write things down to help her remember. No big deal.
An extremely strong and independant woman, she’d raised me alone from the age of 15 when my father died suddenly. She often worked two, three, even four jobs at a time to keep food on the table and put me through college. She had been my best friend ever since my father died. We talked on the phone daily…sometimes multiple times. I noticed the forgetfulness, but shrugged it off as normal for an aging person.
She’d also lived alone since I got married until about four years ago, I think. A good friend of hers fell on some hard times and needed a place to stay. It was only supposed to be for about three months, but turned into much more. Even though I could see my mom’s memory starting to fail, it was probably not as obvious because the friend helped her so much around the house.
During this time, I was busy with my fourth baby, so her roommate eased my mind and my load immensely. My kids were keeping me very busy and my focus was on them. If I’m going to be completely honest, I probably pushed some thoughts of where this was headed aside. The world of elder-care is daunting–something I knew nothing about. I also knew, well, sort of, the impact all of this would eventually have on my life and didn’t want to go there. It was painful, overwhelming.
So, I suppose I was in denial. I even remember thinking that from time to time.
Just about a year ago, there was no denying it anymore.
She got lost–twice. Although, for a long time, I only knew about one incident. Her roommate knew, but out of loyalty to my mother, didn’t tell me.
Then one day she mentioned in casual conversation that she forgot how to use the oven.
Her dementia reached out and slapped me in the forehead like a brick. If she could forget how to use the oven, she could forget where the brake was on the car. She could get lost, flustered, forget the mechanics of driving. Hurt herself. Hurt someone else.
Time to think about this seriously. My responsibility. What do I do? What’s the first step? Who do I talk to?
In a word? Clueless!
I wasn’t in denial anymore, but I didn’t know where to start.
Alot has happened in the last year. I’ve made, and am still making a lot of mistakes. But, I’m learning. In this series of posts on dementia and Alzheimer’s, I will share my journey as a caregiver hoping to provide information and support to others in my shoes. Maybe some will read this who have more experience than I do and share what they know so I can make fewer mistakes going forward.