The younger the person with dementia, the harder it is to get a diagnosis. After that defining moment, the people closest to them will notice a bevy of behavior and reasoning changes.
Jim’s defining moment was the day he forgot his social security number, which was in itself alarming. He was in the service when the Army switched from serial numbers to social security numbers. I knew his social security number, so the day he forgot, I supplied it. The next question was “what is your birth date.” After a pause, Jim’s reply was, “I guess I can’t remember that either.” Ding, ding, ding—alarm bells rang inside my head and in my heart. I knew something had gone wrong in Jim’s brain.
Jim was forty-nine years old. Initially, the doctor thought he had a reversible condition. We had all the tests he could possibly have done and chased several different diagnoses. In time, there were other moments: he tore things apart, but couldn’t put them back together; he forgot how to read and write; he mowed the grass and never lowered the blade; he asked me to tune his guitar, then, he forgot the hundreds of songs he knew, or if he knew them, he couldn’t verbalize the words.
Jim became more and more silent throughout the disease. He forgot how to tell his corny jokes, his tall tales, and how to carry on a conversation. It was loss after loss.
When I was a caregiver, I had choices. I could be weak, or I could be strong. I could walk away, or stay. I could be uncaring, or be kind.
You, too, have many choices as a caregiver. You need to choose carefully and know what feels right, or what will haunt you. You will have many defining moments.
Hopefully, you will make the right choices. If you do, you must remember the rule of oxygen. If you have ever flown, you are given some solid advice if the plane loses pressure and an oxygen mask falls in front of you: if the person with you needs assistance, put on your mask first and then theirs.
The biggest choice you have to make as a caregiver: ignore your mental and physical health, or take care of yourself. You are of no use to a loved one who desperately needs you if you deprive yourself of oxygen. So, take a deep breath and move forward one day at a time.
Copyright © April 2021 by L.S. Fisher