Dementia, a Mental Disorder That Changes Everyone's Life
Dementia is a neurological disorder in which a person experiences a deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities. It is chronic and progressive and it has different stages and symptoms. For a couple of years already, my family and I have been dealing with my grandmother's dementia. Whenever I think about my grandmother, Carmen, I get this huge lump in my throat and usually my eyes get watery, as I know she will never be who she was before this syndrome. Before, she was a social butterfly who loved going out after lunch to one of her relatives’ or friends’ home, yet she would ALWAYS drive back home very slowly before 6 o'clock. She traveled around the world a couple of times and collected postcards and money from the places she visited. She was an outstanding mother and grandmother, always trying to please each one of her children and grandchildren as much as she could. Very few times did I hear a "NO" from her. She was known by her family and friends for her big heart, and for being a religious woman who assisted her church every weekend, and someone who would help any one who would knock on her door. She used to tell me stories about different situations of her mother and father when they had dementia, but little did we know this cognitive disorder would eventually take over her life too. All signs where there, though – all those times she called our house to ask my mother to the same questions, all those times she thought she was misplacing money and clothes, only to later finding out she had given them away to either the housekeeper or anyone who would ring the doorbell. Her obsessive-compulsive disorder got worse in these years; she would make sure, before going to bed, that the kitchen was all cleaned and that everything was in order, and she would check the doors and windows multiple times at night to make sure no one would come into her home. I remember the times my mother came back from the doctor's office, letting us know the results of my grandmother's exams. She would show me how my grandmother’s brain was slowly shrinking and wrinkling, leading to a diagnosis of middle-stage dementia, a neurological disorder that was slowly making my grandmother forget many things, such as what she had done the day before, or whether or not she had eaten all her meals. At first, it was very hard for us to understand her needs. There where days in which she would visit us at our apartment, and a couple of hours later she will get anxious and ask to be taken home immediately. We also had to take her out in the afternoon every single day as she would get desperate being at home. It was very difficult for our family, and it still is, especially when just our grandfather was recently diagnosed with this mental health disorder too. Over the past three years, we started noticing that his brain has also started failing. Right now, he is in the late stage in which he is unaware of time and place, and has difficulty remembering relatives and friends. From time to time, he forgets that he had children, so whenever he sees any of us, he always asks who we are. We have also noticed that he has learned in a way a "script" for whenever doctors ask him the usual questions they ask a dementia patient. These usual questions include his name, when was he born or if he ever got married. Whenever he gets questions like what day is it or what he ate the night before he is not able to answer them as quickly, or he just says that he doesn't know. Before being diagnosed with dementia, my grandfather was seen as a strong, healthy man; he went to his farm and rode his horse until one of his doctors advised him that it wasn't safe for an 86-year-old man to get on a horse (he is now 90 years old). Whenever you would ask him how he was, he would usually answer "like a cannon". He gives the same answer, yet it is sad for us to notice that he no longer says it with the same affirmative tone as he did before. As for now, my family and I have been very thankful of all the people that each day help us ensuring our grandparents’ welfare, the nurses and housekeepers who take care of them, as well as the doctors who go to our home to check on them. Doctors and scientists still have not found the exact cause or a cure for Dementia, yet they have just concluded different ways to help prevent and reduce this neurological disorder. Changing everyday lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk. Hobbies like reading books, listening to music, exercising, meditation, avoiding smoking, changing your diet to vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish and mono-unsaturated foods, learning and speaking a second or third language, solving crossword puzzles and Sudoku can all reduce someone’s risk of dementia. Dementia is overwhelming for both the patient and their families and caregivers. There are physical, emotional and economic pressures that can cause great stress to families and caregivers, and support is required from the health, social, financial and legal systems, as there comes a time where the patient can no longer make their own decisions or where they need assistance from someone to do daily things such as eating or using the washroom. If someone in your family suffers from this syndrome, or feels like they might have it, or if you feel that you have certain symptoms, you should try both educating yourself about it and getting clinically tested. That way, you can take some action into changing and establishing certain daily habits. Last but not least, if you already have a loved one diagnosed with this syndrome, I suggest having a lot of patience, avoiding arguing with them, empathizing, and reassuring them that everything will be alright. They might feel unsure and need you to help them feel confident that they can always count on your assistance. Also, as I previously said, establish certain daily routines with them, play their favorite music, and show them old photo albums, so you can help them remember their old memories.