Dementia: A Brain Made of Swiss Cheese

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What a terrible condition dementia is.

It takes the brain of a bright, loving, proud, communicative – add your own adjectives – individual and turns him or her into an infant. The fog that gradually moves into the mind like fog pouring into the countryside after a rain storm, fills the brain with mush that can no longer make sense out of the simplest of jobs.

Charlie took his ATV out one day and drove onto his hillside to enjoy the early fall scenery and came back a different man.

I hadn't noticed any symptoms prior to that afternoon, nor had he complained of any mental problems up until that day. Turns out, he had suffered a mild stroke that sent him on a slowly spiraling down draft to vagueness.

As he drove the hillside on his well-marked trails, he suddenly became confused and didn't know how to get back home. He sat shaken, in one spot, until the fog in his head began to lift, then drove back to the house.

It would be two days before he gathered his composure over the event to the point where he could mention the problem to me.

Following a series of cognitive tests and a CAT scan doctors confirmed the diagnosis of stroke-induced dementia. Apparently he had previously suffered several smaller such events, without realizing what was going on.

Had either of us been observing his actions carefully, we might have realized earlier that something was not right. But people with early dementia can be very astute at covering up the symptoms, until it is no longer possible.

It soon became evident that this Mr. Fix-It, fighter pilot, previously brilliant man was declining into someone who was ultimately going to depend on me for everything.

Several small ischemic attacks have occurred since that first noticeable episode. Each one has taken its toll. He is no longer able to drive – his skills seem to be okay, but his sense of direction is lost forever. I don't trust him to drive, even with me navigating, because I'm afraid he won't remember where to find the brake pedal or that a red light means stop.

Charlie now gets lost in the grocery store so he waits in the car for me to do the shopping. One day I asked him to put something on the washer, and his response was, "Where's the washer?" although he walks by it several times a day.

I have to leave him alone on occasion to go to appointments or some other event. I carefully tell him where I am going and what time I will be back. By the time I get home he is sometimes in a panic because he didn't know where I was and he worried that something had happened to me.

I recently arranged for a Medic-Alert system to be installed in the home. But I am quite certain that if he should fall while I am away he won't remember to push the button to call for help. This means we are rapidly approaching the point where I'll have to get someone to stay with him if I have to go out for a short period.

Yet they tell me he's still in the early stages of dementia.

He still recognizes me, and other family members; he may not recall their names, but the faces are still familiar. He has forgotten that his sister died; he never mentions his brothers who live away from us, although they were always very close. When they call to talk to him, it's like he is talking to strangers. He has nothing to say to them and hands the phone over to me.

It's sad and frustrating to watch the brain turn to Swiss cheese, letting all the things learned over a lifetime slowly fall through the holes. But that's the way with dementia.

We learn to live with it and cope the best we can.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For AgingCare.com, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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7 Comments

My Dad is almost exactly like what you describe. He had his skull broken and his brain damaged back in 1935, when he ran out in the street at age 3 and was struck by a taxi. I feel like that didn't help his chances of getting dementia in his older years. He is very docile and sweet, but it's just like you described - when friends and family call, he has nothing to say besides to laugh and say "You got THAT right!" to everything they tell him. Then he hands the phone back to me.
My biggest questions are about how the decline will go, and how fast the progression will be. This man basically raised me alone and has been my best bud since I was born. I will do everything I can to make him as happy as he can be in these declining years, but I am starting out knowing nothing about dementia, so I'm not quite sure how to do it. This website seems to really be good. Hang in there!
The man described in the article is in middle multi-infarct dementia - not "early dementia" - as evidenced by his failure to recognize familiar names and forgetting that his sister died. The day will soon come that he cannot dress, feed or bathe himself (severe dementia). At that point, he will need 24/7 care. Start planning NOW for this eventuality and get your ducks in a row. Been there, done that with my own late father.
I think this article is very well researched and written. I have been looking for such an article for a long time. I am in a different situation than most of the cases you have here. my daughter 11 years ago had just finished university with a bachelor of education degree. she had taught school for one year and was enjoying her first vacation. she went for a drive with her girlfriend one day and the girlfriend was driving in a snowstorm. she was passing cars on the highway and as a result. her car spun and hit an oncoming truck. this driver was fine ; but my daughter has a 'tbi' (shaking baby syndrome. I was told that if she was hit any harder she would have died. they had to place my daughter into a nursing home . I visit her every day and I take her home twice a week. I have no support. all of the support has abandoned my daughter. my family tells me that I badly need a vacation. I don't know how I can do that because then no one will be visiting my daughter. I am a single parent who raised my daughter alone.
thanks for your time
Richard
father of injured child