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Archive for November 3rd, 2014

“Of all the things I’ve ever lost, I miss my mind the most!”

It’s supposed to be an old joke; yet, it’s not so old, and by far, it is no joke. Dementia comes in many forms. In addition, it is something of which to be truly terrified. For the person affected, it becomes a series of frustrations, very often angry frustrations. At first, I believe one is angry with oneself for not remembering something as simple as a favorite restaurant or what one’s favorite dish was at the restaurant. As the disease progresses and memory loss becomes greater, the frustration probably becomes more accepted by the victim. The frustration, anger, and sense of loss become the problem of the caregiver.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain.” Now I’m no authority on the subject, but it seems to me and some others I’ve read that short-term memory loss is natural as we age. Remember, we have millions upon millions of brain cells. It’s as natural as losing skin cells to lose some of them along the way. When this short-term memory begins to affect our daily functioning is when dementia is setting in.

The minute someone says “dementia,” the natural assumption is Alzheimer’s. While that disease accounts for about sixty to eighty percent of dementia patients, it does not describe other forms which can be just as devastating. A friend of mine had to stop her daily routine at the gym to take care of her husband. He has Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) which is a progressive degeneration of the brain cells in the front temporal lobes of the brain. “I can’t leave him alone, and I have no one to come in because he doesn’t like strangers,” she said. This is just another form of dementia as opposed to Alzheimer’s. “The second most common form of dementia, vascular dementia is caused by poor blood flow to the brain, which deprives brain cells of the nutrients and oxygen they need to function normally. One of the ten dementia types, vascular dementia can result from any number of conditions which narrow the blood vessels, including stroke, diabetes and hypertension or abnormally high blood pressure.”

The Alzheimer’s Association page notes, “Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

A form of dementia that affects about 1.3 million people is known as Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). It was discovered in the early 1900s by Friedrich H. Lewy, a scientist who was, at the time, researching Parkinson’s disease. Lewy found abnormal protein deposits that upset the normal functioning of the brain. These proteins are found in an area of the brain stem where they actually reduce the release of dopamine causing symptoms similar to those found in Parkinson’s disease.

There are several other forms of dementia, some of which combine with Alzheimer’s while others are caused by imbalances somewhere within the brain. Whatever the dementia type, caring for one with the disease is exhausting and frustrating. My late mother-in-law, Anna, a gifted pianist and a beautiful lady became afflicted with Alzheimer’s in her 60s. Her husband had attempted to care for her at home, and both my late wife and I were convinced that it led to his fatal heart attack. We attempted to find a private hospital for her, against the advice of the family physician. Our decision was based on the fact that we had two young children and that Joan was pregnant with our third. Anna spent one night in the hospital we found before they told us they could not handle her. We committed her to a state hospital and found her care to be magnificent. Even though we were not the primary caregivers, visiting Joan’s mother was, to be frank, a horrible experience. Callous, perhaps, but each time became more difficult, and being called by the hospital with news of her passing was an indescribable relief.

An article in Web M.D. notes that “In severe dementia, there may be extensive memory loss, limited or no mobility, difficulty swallowing, and bowel and bladder control issues. There may be a need for around-the-clock care. At this stage, the patient may have difficulty recognizing family members and caregivers.

“Caregivers experiencing high stress levels during the moderate and severe stages may also be dealing with anticipatory grief associated with a feeling of impending loss of their loved one. Talking with the palliative care team’s social worker can help caregivers understand these feelings and develop strategies for dealing with them.

“Experts warn that caregivers who do not get such help may be more likely to experience a prolonged, complicated period of grief after their loved one dies.”

I can add little to a discussion of dementia, but having been through it with a loved one and having seen others attempting to care for those they love, I will say that reaching out to get help is not only the very best answer, but it will also help to relieve high blood pressure and might just save your own life.

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