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By CK Wilde for 3GenFamily Blog
It was during a phone call five years ago with my Dad’s primary care doctor that the “D” word first came up. Dad was in the hospital, again.
He had gastro-intestinal bleeding which the specialists had finally stopped — but not before a series of delirious outbursts about certain marital secrets that had his second wife shouting that she would have him committed to an institution!
As Dr. R explained, people who have lost a lot of blood can become very incoherent. The problem goes away once the patients’ blood levels are stabilized. “Oh, by the way, you know that your father has dementia, right?” the doctor asked.
Whoa! That stopped me in mid-sentence. Was my father’s second wife right? My father needed to be institutionalized?
“Are you going to commit him to a mental institution? I asked with considerable trepidation. The doctor laughed nervously. I took that to mean no.
Dr. R explained that she was seeing some signs of dementia but that they were mild. She rattled off a litany of symptoms. I had noticed many of those behavioral issues, too, but I didn’t know what to make of them.
The questions I should have asked the doctor were, “What is your recommendation for dealing with my father’s dementia?” and “What can I do to help him?”
The doctor’s diagnosis of dementia seemed like a cruel joke. To be truthful, it frightened me. I had terrible visions of my irascible father becoming a vegetable.
But no matter how frightening this seems, the most important thing NOT to do is pretend it will go away on its own. Taking the initiative to learn as much as you can about dementia can give you the knowledge to ask the right questions.
But, where do you start?
A great place to start is wth the basics: the 7 stages of dementia. Here is a link to the list of stages. Not everyone has all of the symptoms. Like my father, a person with mild dementia can continue to function in familiar surroundings. Denial is very common in the early stages of dementia. The person may become anxious, though.
This is the time for the family to plan for the next stages. My Dad was certain that the next day would be his last. As he envisioned it, he would go to sleep and just not wake up. It didn’t exactly happen that way.
Researchers have indicated that patients with dementia can live from 3 to 9 years after the initial onset of symptoms. Patients who develop symptoms at a younger age tend to live longer than those who are advanced in years when they develop symptoms.
Patients who continue to live in their community seem live longer than those in a nursing home or hospital, but this may be because patients who live in the community are in better health generally.
It is important to note that Alzheimers’ disease is only one cause of dementia. There are actually a number of causes including stroke, depression, or a major shock like loss of blood.
It is important to understand what is causing those symptoms for your loved one. By keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, you can help your elder and the doctor find the right combination of medical and nutritional therapies for the best possible outcome.
Other great resources include:
HealthCentral.com resource on Alzheimer’s,
The Dementia Caregiver’s Toolbox
HeartSpring’s section on Alzheimer’s
So what happened to my Dad?
His dementia seemed to be related to his vascular condition rather than Alzheimer’s. The doctor added Vitamins B6, B12, Folic Acid and E to his regimen of drug prescriptions. These nutrients are very helpful for cardio-vascular support as well as mental acuity. My father had a heart bypass operation a number of years ago and currently had a pacemaker. His dementia seemed to be related to these other medical issues.
His relationship with his second wife, however, was never the same. They eventually were divorced.
So, I became his caregiver for the last two years of his life.