There’s a moment laying awake at night, I suspect, for everybody looking out for a relative with dementia. A moment where you just have to let it grip you, the horrifying realization of it. The person is still your loved one. But whatever they’ve lost – and it’s part of what makes them human, makes them who they are – it’s gone. And it’s not ever coming back.
And what do you do? Well, you have to get up the next day and see that the next thing gets done, the next step gets taken, in addition to running your own life, which I’m coming to realize for many people is still plenty challenging in their mid 30s, mid 40s. But man, for me at least, it makes me think about my own life. Consider my options. I’ve seen a lot of un-unseeable things, having been on the Internet for about 20 years, but the one thing that kept me up for weeks, stomach churning, was a deep spelunk one night into the history of the frontal lobotomy.
The mind is a whole patched together from a lot of pieces. Somebody with dementia is losing those pieces, which affects other pieces, like a patchwork quilt starting to come apart. But their identity is still there, at least in the early to middle stages. And they’re still fucking fully human, despite losing some of what sets us apart from animals. And thinking of people wandering around just … missing something … it’s gut-wrenching to me.
My dad does great on the test of drawing analog clocks. He can draw clocks fine. But he can’t put the hands in the right places to show a specific time. The dementia specialist who assessed him says this is a fallback to “concrete visual reasoning.” In other words, the stage that an eight year old would be almost ready to surpass.
He can’t navigate a supermarket.
I watched him take five minutes to write a check to the patient bank teller for cash. He had plenty of prompting.
But he still pets his cat and calls her disparaging names out of pure love, just like I do with mine. And he still thinks the housekeeper isn’t very bright.
It makes you consider what you’re doing with your life, and it ain’t easy.