A Trip Down Dementia’s Ever-Darkening Road


It was a September day in 2008 that our world changed.

Charlie took his all terrain vehicle (ATV) for a ride on our 200-acre place in upstate New York. It was an idyllic piece of wooded property, with trails that Charlie had built and maintained over the years, and he knew those trails like the back of his hand. I noticed that he was gone longer than usual but I didn't worry.

Two days later, I found out why he was gone so long. He casually remarked to me that he had gotten lost on the hill, became disoriented, and had to rest for a while before he was able make his way home.

I was alarmed. My nursing background was setting off alarms. A trip to the doctor confirmed my suspicions; Charlie had suffered a minor stroke, the first of several transient ischemic attacks (TIA).

That was the beginning of our trip down the ever-darkening road that is called dementia.

It wasn't long before he decided he was no longer able to practice the good stewardship that his wonderful piece of property required. So, the "For Sale" sign went up and it was just a matter of months before the ATV was given to a grandson and we were moving to New Hampshire to be closer to some of our children.

Upon arrival in New Hampshire, Charlie realized that he could have an ATV to ride on land owned by our daughter. He soon invested in a nice "old man's" ATV with a bench seat so I could ride along with him and serve as his navigator.

About a year later, Charlie's mental condition had deteriorated somewhat, but we got on the ATV for a short ride. Confusion set in and he was having difficulty figuring out how to start the machine. Once he got it running, we started out on a ride that required negotiating hills and turns. I could see that he was confused about when to shift up and down to keep the machine under control.

That frightening ride was the last one we took with Charlie at the throttle.

After that, he rode along a couple of times with my son-in-law driving the machine, but it just wasn't the same for Charlie. It was like telling a cowboy that he could no longer ride his horse; that he would instead have to ride in a buggy behind the horse. His sense of freedom and oneness with the environment was lost.

The next step was to sign the registration over to our son-in-law and give up ATV-ing.That is probably one of the things Charlie misses most since his dementia took over his mind. For him, his inability to wander through the woods communing with nature is worse than not being able to drive a car.

He has accepted his limitations without grumbling or feeling sorry for himself. But I am sure when he spends hours laying on his bed during the day, he is day-dreaming about the days when he was out in the woods with the deer and turkeys, raising a partridge from the underbrush and hearing the barred owl hoot a warning as he rode too close to its nesting tree.At least he hasn't lost those memories—yet.

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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I know exactly how you feel. It's so hard to show respect and love when your being verbally abused every day.Allow me to share this poem that I am trying to live by with God's help. Do not ask me to remember. Don't try to make me understand. Let me rest and know you're with me. Kiss my cheek and hold my hand. I'm confused beyond your concept. I am sad and sick and lost. All I know is that I need you, to be with me at all cost. Do not lose your patience with me. Do not scold or curse or cry. I can't help the way I'm acting. Can't be different though I try. Just remember that I need you. That the best of me is gone. Please don't fail to stand beside me. Love me till my life is done. .....unknown
This is very touching, Marlis..............
Marlis, I've been following your articles all this year, thank you for sharing your experiences. What wonderful memories your hubby has about the past, enjoying the wonders of nature.... many of us are jealous that he got to experience such delightful things. But on the other side of the coin, he can't do all those things like he use to.... [sigh].

I can't remember how mobile Charlie is, just wondering if anyone has a large dog he can walk in the woods... if Charlie losses his way, dogs always find their way back home.

Are you living in a place where you can feed the wildlife? I know that I and my sig other can spend hours watching the birds, squirrels and chipmunks feeding right outside our window. The chipmunks are getting a bit tamer, not running away as fast when we bring the feed out. Maybe a deer feeding station further back in the yard [if the yard is opened and has woods], they like to eat dog chow.

What about wildlife cameras? These cameras are waterproof, use batteries, and has a computer chip where you can place that chip into the computer to see the pictures. I have one on my front porch at small animal level, and one on my back deck. We finally found out who was taking away the water bowl off the deck, a young fox :)