For Melissa and me, our crash course on elder care started about 20 years ago, so I think we are beyond the crash course part. We’ve been engaged in learning about elder care constantly, starting when Melissa, and her brother Frank, noticed some changes in their mother’s routine behaviors. I know many people who are ahead of us on the learning curve, but many are behind us and, along the way, we’ve done our best to be a resource to those learning how to deal with aging parents or spouses. There are so many things to do or to consider. There are trusts, wills and advanced directives; there are continuous care retirement communities (CCRCs); there are facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities (ALF); there is Medicare; there is Medicaid; and there is in home care. There are many medical tests and diagnoses, and, in part, because people are living well into their 80s and beyond, dementia is lurking around so many corners. (Dementia is the global term for many diseases of the brain, most often referred to as memory loss. But, dementia has many forms and one has to learn about those when dealing with signs of dementia. Dementia is more than forgetfulness, though that is a symptom. Dementia gradually lays waste to the brain in ways that body systems die.) As Melissa and I have mostly been ahead of our friends, given her Mom’s age when Melissa was born, we have had our experiences to share. One of my good friends, whose parents are a few years behind mine in dementia related decline, tells me he considers my stories to be his “coming attractions.” That is, what I’m relating to him has later come true with his parents. I was telling this to another friend of mine recently and she said – “…but that is a movie I don’t want to see.” Believe me, I am not enjoying what I see either! It is just reality and one that is difficult to navigate. Even with the help of doctors, lawyers, social workers, senior care workers of many sorts, and a built in family psychologist (Melissa,) and 2 siblings to share the load, it is a difficult challenge. If I can help, let me know. But, know that you are never alone and there are resources which can help, wherever you are at whatever stage of the care spectrum.
Since my mom began showing obvious (at least, to me) signs of dementia almost 20 years ago, I decided to learn everything I could about dementia, in its various forms. Many people, upon noticing that “something just isn’t right” about their loved one, try their best to ignore the signs of dementia, in a misguided attempt to act as if everything is okay. I cannot understand this reluctance to help someone in need, particularly when there are many ways of helping someone in the early stages of dementia. Dementia is an illness, just like diabetes and heart disease are illnesses. I ask people who refuse to help their loved one, “Would you take your mom to the hospital if she was having a heart attack or would you just do nothing, hoping it will go away?” or “If your dad broke his leg, would you take him to the emergency room or would you let him suffer until the break eventually healed on its own?”. When I ask the stubborn and reluctant person these types of questions, I usually get an answer like, “Well, Mom won’t like it if I take her to a neurologist for a cognitive test.” My reply to this is, “Does you darling dog enjoy it when you force her to go to the veterinarian? Then why do you make her go?” The important thing about dementia, regardless of its particular type, is that it is always going to get worse, never better. However, there are many things that can be done to slow down its devastating effects. To recognize dementia in a loved one, but refuse to do anything about it, is, in my opinion, unconscionable. Help is available. Just ask David or me if you would like to know where to start. There are numerous resources about which we are aware. Don’t wait until it’s too late!