Thoughts on Dementia

Long ago, my granny and I had wonderful talks while doing the dishes. We talked about all kinds of things, but mostly about family. I remember very clearly her saying that she hoped that when she died, she just fell down dead and that would be that. Her biggest fear, she told me, was losing her mind. Sadly, her worst fear came true. She had dementia before she died.

I think all of us have fears about getting Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. I shared a post on FaceBook about people with dementia, and it got me to thinking about it more (see What I’ll Say to My Children). Watching my granny and Hubby’s granny suffer with dementia was very hard on the families.

One of my last memories of Granny was her sitting in a chair in the living room of my parents’ house. She was looking at the floor all around the chair. “What are you doing, Granny?” we asked. “Looking at all the beautiful flowers,” she replied. She had a doll she thought was her baby. Most of all, she knew she wasn’t at home and wanted to go home. There was no way she could, but we couldn’t explain it to her so that she understood. It was heartbreaking. The last time I saw her, she was in a hospital bed. Some of her children were around her, but she was not really there any more. I thought back to those talks in the kitchen and knew she’d rather be dead than lying in that hospital bed in that condition. She died not too long afterward. It was hard to grieve for her because I knew she’d rather have had it that way than to be wished back.

Hubby’s grandmother had dementia resulting from a tumor on the lining of her brain. It was inoperable, and there was no treatment for it. Her mind slowly faded away until she didn’t know anyone. She seemed confused, but contented in the nursing home. She loved the cat there, and always was happy to see us even though she had no idea who we were. She was always jolly during our visits. It was painful not to be recognized or remembered, but she seemed happy. Her affliction was harder on the family than it was on her.

A friend from long ago had a mother with Alzheimer’s who kept a journal of her growing affliction. The thing most striking in her journal was that her mother knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what it was. She knew she should know people and felt guilty for not knowing who they were. It made me wonder if people with dementia are like people in comas. They can hear and understand like people in comas, but they can’t comprehend what they think they should know. If so, visiting and talking to those with dementia is probably a worthwhile effort.

Like most others, I fear getting dementia. I really hope I don’t. If I do, I hope I’m like Hubby’s grandmother and am happy in whatever place I’m in. I hope my family doesn’t feel obligated to keep me at home as long as possible. It’s too much stress and pressure for them to disrupt their lives for me. I hope they pick a nice place for me and let me be happy there. I hope they come see me, whether I know them or not. I hope they’ll talk to me, read poems to me, and show me pictures of the past. I hope they’ll bring me chocolate to eat because I will probably still love it.

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