Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dementia and My Mother

My father had dementia. At times my father did not know who my mother was or that she was ill. He sometimes referred to her as the “man without hair” or sometimes referred to her as two people. My mother had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had taken treatments that caused her to lose her hair. He did not remember my mother’s name and for the last few years of her life did not say her name. This was ironical since all of my childhood and adult years; I would hear him say her name thousands of times. “Marina, where’s my coffee”, “Marina, get me a glass of water”, or “Marina, have you heard from the kids?” You see my father was totally dependent on my mother to take care of things, always.

My mother was a woman who for fifty-nine years cooked special and delicious meals for my diabetic father. This was a woman who served my father coffee in bed every morning of their married life. I do not know of anyone as selfless as my mother. She was his second “mother”, his partner in business, his love, and his caregiver. How could he forget her name?
My mother would get very frustrated and her feelings would get hurt when he wouldn’t say her name. Can you imagine your spouse forgetting your name after you have devoted a lifetime to their well being? It didn’t make sense to her. It didn’t make sense to me or my siblings.

In his state of dementia, you never knew when he would be in his “zone” or in reality. He always recognized my siblings and me, for which were very thankful. We asked if there was any medication to help his memory but there was only Alzheimer’s medication which was prescribed and he took but it did not help. There was no medication for dementia.

My mother never gave up, even when she saw no improvement in my father’s condition. When I called my mother on the phone, she would ask me to talk to my father. She wanted him to have conversations with people to help stimulate his brain. We did not know at this time that my father was having small strokes that were deteriorating his brain. My mother tried to get him to remember things. Again, we didn’t know at the time that one of the worst things you can do is try to force dementia patients to remember things. She could not take care of my father’s problem which was impossible for her to accept.

My mother had great difficulty coping with my father’s dementia. Sometimes he acted normal and other times he was like a stranger. The ups and downs of dementia is what my mother contended with hourly, daily -- for nearly two years, until her death.

How do you take care of one parent who is dying while taking care of the other who has dementia? Which one needs the most attention? How do you tell your mother to be logical, not to be so emotional when her heart is breaking? What could I have done differently?

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