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5 Things That You May (or May Not) Know About Dementia

Cindy is an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.

Studies show that 20-40% of dementia cases are unrelated to Alzheimer's.*

Studies show that 20-40% of dementia cases are unrelated to Alzheimer's.*

While Alzheimer's disease accounts for the majority of cases of dementia, there are other reasons for a marked decline in a person's mental state. In my mother's case, the devastating symptoms appeared shortly after she fell and struck her head on a bedside table.

On the surface, the incident was not terribly concerning. The impact had been enough to cause a gash near her right temple but had not incapacitated her or knocked her unconscious. In fact, she had been up walking around and speaking normally while she waited for an ambulance to arrive.

At the hospital, a CAT scan revealed that she had suffered a brain bleed. Her doctor assured us that it was nothing serious but suggested that she be admitted and kept under observation until he was confident that she was out of the woods.

Over the course of the next few days, her physical condition steadily improved, even as her cognitive abilities started to slip. For instance, she would get confused and think that she was at home, which had never happened on any of her previous stays. She was also being uncharacteristically temperamental, snapping at the nurses and accusing them of stealing her belongings. This mild-mannered woman who had always been a model patient had suddenly become a handful, and no one seemed to know why.

Initially, it was thought that these behavioral changes were symptoms of a urinary tract infection. After being put on intravenous antibiotics, she improved enough that everyone, including her doctor, was satisfied that the storm had passed. We didn't know it at the time, but this was only the beginning.

The symptoms of urinary tract infections can mimic those of dementia in the elderly.

The symptoms of urinary tract infections can mimic those of dementia in the elderly.

2. Beware the Urinary Tract Infection Trap

My mother was discharged after a week with a virtually clean bill of health and a slew of new medications to add to her regimen. Even though her medical team had been satisfied that all was well, it wasn't long before we realized that something was very wrong.

Although she tried to get back to her normal routine, she had trouble doing things that had come naturally to her prior to the fall. She would try to put the dishes away but forget where they went. The television remote control suddenly became a puzzle that she couldn't figure out. On one occasion, she called me in a panic because she couldn't find the bathroom in a house that she had lived in for over fifty years.

After experiencing these lapses in memory, she would often say that she felt like she was losing her mind. I was constantly reassuring her that it was normal to forget things, even though it was obvious that this was something different. I knew it and, unfortunately, so did she.

Thinking that another UTI might be the problem, my sister phoned the doctor's office and informed them of her suspicions. After delivering a urine sample to their doorstep, she received word a few hours later that our mother did indeed have another infection. Antibiotics were prescribed and, once again, they seemed to do the trick. This would be a pattern that would be repeated at least half a dozen times before anyone realized that something else was going on.

Just as before, her condition improved dramatically for a short time before taking a nosedive. Despite having fully recovered from the UTI, she became convinced that she was a guest in someone else's house and would be forced to leave soon. No matter how many times we told her that she was in her own home and needn't worry, she continued to insist that she was about to be thrown out into the street.

It was also around that time that she began interacting with people that only she could see. On some occasions, I would watch as she carried on long, animated conversations with visitors who, according to her, were speaking to me as well. It was surreal, to say the least.

The number of invisible visitors to her home increased daily. Some of them were friendly and she appeared to genuinely enjoy their company. Others, however, seemed to be hellbent on tormenting her. Sometimes, they frightened her to such an extent that she would attempt to flee the house on her walker.

It was only when it became clear that the antibiotics weren't doing any good in the long run that her doctor finally admitted that there might be an underlying condition that needed to be addressed. Even so, he did not, at any time, suggest that she was suffering from dementia. As had been his habit all along, he simply prescribed more pills and moved on to the next patient.

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The official diagnosis would be made later on by an emergency room doctor who was in such a hurry that she blurted it out like she was placing her lunch order. If that sounds bitter, so be it.

Dementia patients can still experience good days.

Dementia patients can still experience good days.

3. There Will Be Good Days and Bad

Although they were few and far between, my mother still had days when she behaved like her old self. She would be so lucid and present during these respites that it was as if the previous weeks had been nothing more than a bad dream.

When this occurred, her level of awareness was so acute that we sometimes made the mistake of allowing ourselves to be lulled into believing that she had miraculously recovered. We would inevitably come back down to earth when the fog returned, leaving her with no recollection of the glorious moments that had meant so much to us.

Even the bad days weren't always horrible. It helped that she had somehow managed to strike a balance between the world she shared with us and the one she inhabited with the host of entities that were now a constant presence in her life. I found out early on that it was better to play along than to attempt to pull her back into reality. My no-nonsense sister, however, couldn't bring herself to entertain the delusions, even when it was in everyone's best interest to do so.

Unfortunately, as the illness progressed, the good times slowly came to an end. It was clear at around the eight-month mark that she was slipping further and further into her fantasy world with each passing day. We realized then that the time would come when we wouldn't be able to get her back. What we didn't know was that this would happen sooner than later.

Sometimes, it's easy to forget that a real person exists behind the mask of dementia.

Sometimes, it's easy to forget that a real person exists behind the mask of dementia.

4. Patients With Dementia Are Sometimes Treated as Nonentities

Before delving into this issue, let me say that everyone's experience is different. I can only speak for my own. While I'm sure that there are wonderful medical professionals out there who treat their patients with the utmost respect regardless of age or level of infirmity, this was not so in my mother's case.

From her primary physician of over a decade who always acted like he was meeting her for the first time, to the paramedics that were called to her home on numerous occasions, the care she received was questionable at best.

Most of the doctors that we dealt with, including the aforementioned primary, had a tendency to talk around her rather than to her, even when it was obvious that she understood exactly what was being said. My sister, who was her medical power of attorney, was the person they consulted on every issue, leaving our mother completely out of the loop. Although she was the one paying their sizable fees, they clearly had no interest in what she had to say.

The paramedics weren't much better, though they did at least take the time to engage with her. Even before the dementia had taken hold, they would ask her the cookie cutter questions that some genius had compiled in order to determine whether or not someone was in control of their faculties. More often than not, she would get most of the answers wrong.

Rather than maintaining some level of decorum, there were times when the EMTs openly made fun of her replies. In one instance, they even laughed out loud when she didn't know what year it was. Invariably, since she couldn't answer the questions to their satisfaction, they would insist that she accompany them to the hospital for further evaluation.

What these people didn't understand was that my mother had been virtually housebound for three years at that point. I know from experience that if I don't have a schedule, it's easy to lose track of the days. The same was true for her. She didn't have anywhere to go, so she no longer felt the need to check the calendar. It simply wasn't important to her anymore.

One thing that they seemed to find particularly shocking was that she couldn't recall the name of the sitting president. What they didn't know, or bother to find out, was that she only looked at periodicals to work the crossword puzzles and preferred game shows to news broadcasts. The bottom line was that she liked to focus on things that she found entertaining, which didn't include politics.

The fact that she always knew her own name, the year she was born and what town she lived in never seemed to matter to them. Apparently, once you reach a certain age, the things that actually have relevance in your life don't amount to a hill of beans.

There's no arguing that she had dementia, the trouble lies with the way she was belittled by people who should have known better. It would pay for everyone, medical personnel included, to remember that these are real people who, no matter their state of mind, are deserving of respect.

Once dementia takes hold, the clock starts winding down.

Once dementia takes hold, the clock starts winding down.

5. The Situation Can Change in a Heartbeat

My mother's head injury occurred in January of 2021. By November, she was under the supervision of hospice. While some cases of dementia progress slowly over the course of several years, hers gained momentum around the sixth month and, from that point on, there was no turning back.

Throughout the summer, hallucinations dominated her life. By then, her deceased mother and siblings were around her nearly all of the time. She spoke to them with such adoration that we started to believe that they were actually there, and perhaps they were. At that stage of the game, so much had happened that anything seemed possible.

She was doing pretty well, all things considered. She was still able to move about with the help of a walker, eat sporadically, which she called "piecing," watch old western movies and even read on occasion. She rambled often and had become paranoid about just about everything but was not by any means helpless. A final hospital stay around Halloween would take care of that.

I don't know, and will never know, what happened during the week or so that she spent in the medical center. The end result, however, was that she was discharged under the care of hospice. No longer able to walk, speak intelligibly or sit up on her own, she was dying before our eyes.

Within two weeks of returning home, she was gone. A year earlier, she had been remarkably healthy for a woman her age. Spry in body and mind, it seemed that she would give her own mother, who had passed away a few days short of her 100th birthday, a run for her money. Sadly, it was not to be.

It should be noted that no one in her family, which was plentiful, had ever been diagnosed with dementia—not one. But for the head injury she suffered, which by outward appearances was nothing more than a scrape, she might have lived another ten years, which wasn't unheard of in her clan. Instead, she died a sorrowful death that none of us could have predicted.

In the end, we like to think that her mind was restored as her spirit took flight and that she has found peace. It is that hope that makes the loss bearable.

*www.alz.org

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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