Dementia is hard ... hard for the person who has it and even harder for their family.
There was a doctor who specialized in the disease who referred to it as “the forgetting disease.” That doctor went on to say, “People forget in reverse order of how they learned.” Those who suffer from dementia start out by forgetting recent things, like new people they recently met, a conversation you had with them yesterday, or even how to get somewhere they regularly go.
As it progresses, it gets to be more significant things, like family members or where they live. Eventually, they forget the things we first learn — how to walk, how to eat, and finally how to breathe.
That description not only puts it in non-medical terminology really well, it makes it so easy to understand how hard this disease can be on everyone involved. It’s no big deal to forget where you put your shoes or if you miss an appointment. It is a very big deal when someone forgets their child or spouse.
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are several signs you should be aware of if you are concerned that you or someone you love may have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Challenges in planning or problem solving
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Confusion with time or place
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
New problems with words in speaking or writing
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
Decreased or poor judgement
Withdrawal from work or social activities
Changes in mood or personality
Many of these things are normal. Just because you forgot where you left your keys or you thought it was Tuesday when it’s actually Wednesday does not mean you have Alzheimer’s disease. But a frequent pattern of the things on this list is something that needs to be discussed with your primary health care provider.
One of our Care Managers, Candice Lewis, shares her mom's current struggle with dementia:
My mom was always outgoing — she was up for whatever at the drop of a hat. I remember thinking that she had more of a social life in her 40s than I did in my 20s! She would go on exciting trips on a whim.
Nothing ever scared her. She was a police officer and loved the adrenaline rush. She retired as a police officer 16 years ago. In that 16 years, she went to school, received her degree, and worked for the state as an investigator. She finally decided she wanted to be back in the police world and became a dispatcher in her old stomping grounds.
During her time as a dispatcher, however, there were signs that things were different. She started to become forgetful. At first it was small things like losing her keys in the house. Then it got worse. She was forgetting call signs and jurisdictions. Inevitably she was let go from her job because she was not retaining information. At the time she was going to her primary care doctor for anxiety and depression.
She then went to him for her memory issue. He did not formally diagnose her with dementia but put her on some major medications for someone with dementia, plus anxiety and depression. It was not long after getting this cocktail of medications that she suffered from a mental breakdown.
It was clear she needed a new doctor, so I found her a new one closer to home. The doctor suggested she try the Arkansas Longevity Center. This clinic specializes in keeping older people happy and healthy for as long as possible and also offers services for memory evaluation and treatment for dementia patients. Mom had an evaluation and found out she did indeed have dementia.
Since then it has been a roller coaster to say the least.
I was in denial. I kept telling her and myself that the forgetfulness was just the adrenaline of dispatching and not having an outlet like she used to as a police officer. I would also say it was just normal aging and forgetting.
Her personality has changed. She no longer enjoys going out. She would rather stay home with her cat. I've also noticed our roles are starting to reverse. There are days I have to comfort her because her cat hasn’t come home yet. There are days that I have to be super cheery when I don’t want to be, just like she used to do for me.
We are taking our new normal day by day. She can still get out on her own and live by herself. She keeps her mind active by doing puzzles and keeps herself physically active by working in her yard and doing her projects.
At some point she will need help in her home. Working as a Care Manager at Favor Home Care has helped. Having experience with clients with dementia, I’ve learned how to handle non-compliant, scared and confused clients and the art of redirection. I sometimes have to remind myself of all I do know and apply it to helping my mom.
On the other side of that coin, the more I handle my mom’s affairs the more I am able to share my experiences with our clients and their families. I know where they are coming from. I understand the complexity that comes along with this disease. I can connect with so many people being in this business; people who need my help and people who can help me. If anyone is reading this and needs someone to talk to, I'm here.
The sooner dementia is detected, the better chance we have to manage it. While there is no cure right now, there are many things available that can help slow the progression of the disease and keep symptoms under control for as long as possible.
If you are seeing the symptoms of dementia in yourself or someone you love, please speak to your primary healthcare provider. If you're feeling overwhelmed and need help caring for yourself or a family member, please give us a call at 501-725-2273 or send us an email at email@example.com. You don't have to face this alone.