I haven’t written about the world of Dementia for a while for a variety of reasons. One, is simply because there has been little to write about. Things have stayed rather stagnant for a while. Another, is because my children don’t like to read about it. It is our reality, but they try not have it be the focus of our existence, and I can appreciate that.
That being said, I share our story for two major purposes: to inform and to educate. I feel strongly that my responsibility is to be transparent in order to keep friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors updated so that they don’t have to ask. There are also followers who either have lived, are living, or will live through dementia in some capacity. The disease doesn’t show favoritism and you never know when it will come knocking at the door of a friend or family member.
A third reason, and the most important one for me, is for therapy. I process by communicating. When life’s circumstances bog me down, writing forces me to organize my thoughts. Strange as it might seem, it works as a sort of detox for my brain.
Today I wish to inform or educate, and at the very least, detox. So, here goes…
Five and a half years ago, I was angry. That was when my 47-year old husband was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia, most likely caused by too many blows to the head. But if it were possible to go back and console my younger self, these are some things that I might say:
Dear Younger Me,
I know that you are running around like an idiot trying to get those 25 things that the support group gave you, completed. They are right, you need to do them and many things are time sensitive. However, you need to know more than anything, that you will have plenty of time to regroup and reset. Time is on your side.
Medical challenges will erupt, and every person’s dementia story sounds different. However, there will be many similarities. Listen and learn from those who have gone before you. I know that makes you angry. You want to know the timetable. You want to know what to expect and when to brace for another pothole, but there is no way to plan. Everyone’s journey is unique. Stop planning.
View his time home as a sweet blessing and his lost job as a gift from above. Call it “Early Retirement” and learn to graciously accept gifts from friends and family. Do not deny them of the blessings that come from being a helpmate to a friend, family, coworker, or neighbor. Choke back your pride. There will be a day when finances will adjust to a “new normal” but it will take time and patience. You will not always live on bread and peanut butter.
Notice the blessings. God knew that your favorite man would need more projects than he could keep up with, That is why he supplied the house on the mountain three years in advance. He also knew that you would need help from well-trained children, who are natural caregivers. He supplied a home that was too big for two, and just right for six, and filled a need for two families. Enjoy the gift of family that provides help and grandchildren that fill you up.
Believe it or not, your relationship will become sweeter than it has ever been. You will feel needed and appreciated because he relies on you so thoroughly. Walks are precious. That is the time that he will open up to you and talk to you about changes that he notices and fears that he has about the future. It is a blessed time to reassure him and provide him with comfort. It is a beautiful gift of time that the Lord has provided.
He knew you needed a small support system that you could call on at any time, knowing that they would be there to hold you up when you won’t have the strength on your own. Don’t dwell on who isn’t there when you feel lonely. Instead, feel thankful for those who have stepped in to help and encourage you.
The dementia progression will go in steps like a staircase. He will be on one stair for quite some time, before moving to the next landing. It gives you time to recalculate and regroup. Relax. You will catch up.
Some days will be cloudy and some days will be clear. Most days are just fine. He won’t be able to differentiate between a cloudy and clear day, so you will have to do it for him. He will be tired, confused, frustrated because he can’t do something he knows he should know how to do, or angry because he “did something stupid”. Just reassure him, and keep things light. You are his person and if he sees you upset, he won’t know what to do about it and his agitation will increase. Save it for the closet or the shower.
He will be quieter. Be prepared to do projects and errands alone. You will have to keep him safe, take over the driving, manage the finances, and monitor the medications. However, the good news is that he will still be an active participant in the family. He will still cook, mow the lawn, do laundry (after someone else separates it), clean, and make minor renovations 5 1/2 years after the diagnosis. Regression isn’t immediate, so relax. Just watch from afar to be sure that he stays safe.
He will be tired, have a headache nearly every day, and will be sore from a torn rotator cuff and an arthritis filled body. He will lose his desire to eat most meals. However, he will be drawn to sweets. Foods will taste bland to him, so they won’t be as enjoyable. He will be thrilled with Dunkin Donut’s coffee, soda, and sweet treats like ice cream, candy, and cookies. It will make you so happy to see him content.
You will have to worry about highly stimulating situations. He will no longer want to go to church, or crowded places, especially where people might know him, and he doesn’t know them. Even familiar places like the family farm will be a scary place. He will be happiest at home, riding in the car, or down by the water. The ocean brings him peace. He will love to watch the boats and the tide slapping on the rocks.
After 5 1/2 years, he will still be able to read, and retain what he reads if it is highly interesting. He will still be interested in politics, history, and the most recent election. It will bring him great joy to re-watch the surprise ending! He will enjoy watching Big Brother, Survivor, and 48 hours with your middle child via FaceTime and Messenger every Saturday night.
His children and grandchildren will continue to bring him the most joy. Although highly stimulating when all together, there will be nothing that makes him happier. Plan to have him respond much the way an autistic child would when he’s had enough. He will shake his hands, stare, shiver, rock, yell out, or bolt. Occasionally he might surprise you and rise to the occasion, and crash later. Most importantly, he will be looking for you. You are his person. Be there. Hold his hand, whisper in his ear, let him rub your arm raw, and take him for a walk. He needs you and it will make you feel so good to be his lifeline.
More than anything, live for the day. Stop planning. Don’t plan anything for more than 4-6 weeks out. Think back to when the children were little. Make tentative plans based on how he is doing at that moment on that particular day. Dementia makes no sense. Some days are good. Some days are not so good. Some things are forgotten forever. Some things come back after a period of time.
Celebrate each day as a gift. Stop worrying about the future. When it’s time, God will reveal what the next steps are. It sounds trite, but you really have to just live in the moment. Most importantly, stop holding your breath. Don’t waste one precious moment. You don’t want any regrets in the end.
Don’t doubt yourself. Your journey is your journey. It isn’t going to look like everyone else’s. You and the kids are going to be alright. He has taught you everything you need to know to keep going. When the time comes, and the Lord takes him home, be assured that you will one day be reunited. A physical death is not the end of your story. So relax. Enjoy the moment, seek joy, find strength and peace. You will be okay.
Older, Wiser Me.