Gradually, Erma's ability to walk more than a few yards without a rest was curtailed by her growing respiratory problems. She would gasp for breath, be unable to speak and would need to sit down many times before reaching her destinations. It could take ten minutes for her to go a hundred feet.
Several nasty falls landed her in the emergency rooms of local hospitals and rewarded her with a walker. Frequent bladder accident progressed into total incontinence. With persuasive efforts, Erma reluctantly agreed to wear protective underwear. This worked for about a year and she could still go almost anywhere.
After a while she gave up self-toileting altogether. She would often leave damp spots on chairs when she arose and her pants would be visibly wet. Remarkably, she was unaware of this, but I wasn't, I still felt embarrassed for her. Constant worries about protecting her dignity consumed me. How do I feel about this? How is a son supposed to feel? We're talking about the woman who lovingly raised me and sacrifice so much of her life for me. When I see her like this, I feel like the contents of those dirty diapers. My feelings bounce up and down like a basketball keeping pace with Erma's changing personality, mood swings, diminishing capabilities and deficiencies. My feelings range between highs of love and respect for the woman I turned to when there were monsters under my bed and lows of resentment and frustration and feelings of "why me." Mostly, there is just heartbreak at witnessing this once vital and intelligent woman lose herself within her own failing body.
As you might expect, all of Erma's breathing, walking and toileting issues made it very difficult for me to handle her needs. Erma was having a hard time cooking and keeping up with her daily living activities without someone there to guide her through it. Under these conditions, outside excursions had to taper off and eventually they stopped altogether. Overwhelming feelings of guilt lead to me visiting less and less. Her needs became too much to handle.
The story above may sound all too familiar, change some details here and there but the underlying problems are the same. This is Bob's story and he and his mother Erma are dealing with dementia. It may be difficult to imagine at first because no stereotypical signs of obvious forgetfulness or absent mindedness associated with this disease are apparent. That's because there are seven stages of dementia and noticeable forgetfulness doesn't come until plaque has already begun to build up in the brains tissue. Dementia is so difficult to accept for both the individuals living with the disease and for those caring for them. There is no cure and no guideline for prevention leaving people feeling powerless. Dementia attacks the brain. Often times individuals will behave differently. Dementia hugely affects all aspects of life. People living with dementia are sometimes able to recognize a change and be reluctant to accept the possibility of what could happen. A sense of embarrassment associated with the idea that there's something wrong with your mind can lead to isolation which leads to depression and worsening symptoms.
The journey this disease takes you on doesn't have to be a painful struggle. It's true, there is no cure for this disease, but people can also live long, active, and fulfilling lives. In fact, the average person lives 20 years with this disease depending on time of detection. That's why it's so important to ask yourself, "How do I want to spend those years?" There are two choices, you can either be avoidant and intentionally overlook the possibility there is a problem or you can decide to do what you can to assure that you and you loved ones have the most quality out of your life. The earlier the disease is detected, the faster you'll be able to take action in consulting with a physician or mental health professional to determine a balanced medication regimen and lifestyle rehabilitation which has been proven to slow down the progression of dementia considerably. There are lots of available resources and local agencies designed to assist you and take some stress out of your life. If you or a loved one are showing any questionable signs of dementia or any other mental health related issues you are encouraged to take action. Ten Lakes Center for Behavioral Health and many other local healthcare providers will be available at the upcoming 2009 Family Wellness Day at New Towne Mall. Any questions concerning your own health or that of a loved one, Ten Lakes Center can help. Mental health screenings, literature on mental illness and educated staff available at the Ten Lakes Center booth, to answer any of your questions.