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Dementia: One Family's Struggle With This Merciless Killer

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

It can happen when we're least expecting it.

It can happen when we're least expecting it.

The Backstory

My mother was always a go-getter. She was a stay-at-home mom who raised three children before deciding to embark on a career shortly after her youngest turned thirteen. A natural in the kitchen, she applied for employment as a substitute cook for the county school system. In no time at all, she was being called two or three times a week to fill in for those who couldn't make it to work for whatever reason.

A self-starter, she soon gained a reputation as the sub that everyone wanted to see walk through the door in a pinch. After spending a couple of years working sporadically here and there, she was offered a full-time position at one of the local elementary schools.

Once again, she excelled on every level. Her work ethic and easy-going manner made her popular with coworkers, staff members and students alike. Even though she returned their love tenfold, when the opportunity to manage the cafeteria at a nearby junior high was announced, she threw her name in the ring. To no one's surprise, she got the job. In only a few short years, she had worked her way up to the top.

Even though she had never operated a computer before, she mastered the programs in no time at all. For the next seventeen years, she would proficiently run a kitchen that produced such excellent food that people would regularly flock there on their lunch breaks to lay down their money for the school fare rather than going to fast-food restaurants. No lie, the food was that good.

After she retired, she worked for twenty years as a caregiver for the elderly, another endeavor that fit her like a glove. At the age of eighty-three, she finally packed it in, not because she was ready to settle down, but because the woman she was tending to was put in a nursing home.

Feeling a bit lost after so many years of being active, her health began to decline. With no place to go and no one depending on her, she suddenly began to feel her age. Even though she tried to keep busy around the house, it just wasn't the same.

It's important to note that she did not live alone. My sister also resided in the home. Unfortunately, she wasn't there as much as our mother would have liked, which was an ongoing point of contention between the two.

My family and I would visit every week, sometimes more than once, which helped to break the monotony. Still, it wasn't enough to ease her ever-growing boredom and loss of purpose.

In January of 2021, she fell while getting out of bed one morning. To make a bad situation worse, she struck her head on the nightstand on the way down. Bleeding profusely, she called out for help. My sister had taken one look at the wound and immediately phoned an ambulance.

She was admitted to the hospital where she underwent a battery of tests, including a Cat scan which revealed that she had suffered what was described to us as a "minor brain bleed." As it turned out, there was nothing minor about it. This incident, which her doctor seemed to think had done minimal damage, would prove to be the beginning of the end for my mother.

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The Nightmare Begins

After spending a few days in the hospital, she was discharged. Other than taking her off of blood thinners temporarily, there was nothing they could do for the bleed other than to give it time to heal on its own, which it did. Unfortunately, that bump on the head would be the catalyst for much worse things to come.

Shortly after returning home, she started hearing and seeing things that weren't there, at least not as far as we could tell. Among other things, she began carrying on long conversations with a group of phantom ladies who visited her frequently. She would also interact with an odd collection of dogs and cats that she said had taken up residence in her house.

As unsettling as these odd developments were for us, they were worse for her. Just as we were coming to the realization that something was definitely not right, so was she. Time and again she would comment that she feared she was losing her mind. She would blurt out something completely off the wall and quickly follow up by saying that she didn't know where the outburst had come from.

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As disturbing as the hallucinations were, they were nothing compared to the sinister beings that she believed lurked just outside the door. One night, while my sister was out, I called around bedtime to check in on our mother. Instead of her usual cheerful self, she answered the phone in a panic.

Absolutely petrified, she screamed into the receiver that there was a group of men in the front yard with guns. According to her, they were shining lights through the windows and yelling that were coming in to kill her and her beloved cat.

Not knowing what else to do, I told her that I would be right over. As I was preparing to rush out the door, I got hold of my sister to let her know what was going on. Rather than offering to help diffuse the situation, she phoned 911.

By the time that I arrived at the house, my sister was already there, waiting for the ambulance. In the short time that they had been alone together, the two had argued, which wasn't unusual.

Unable to see the world from our mother's perspective, her eldest daughter had attempted to snap her back into reality by telling her that she was seeing things. Since the people who tormented her were real in her mind, this made mom double-down on her insistence that she was under attack. If anything, trying to convince her otherwise had done more harm than good.

Within minutes, paramedics showed up, followed by two uniformed police officers. As the medical personnel questioned my mother, the patrolmen stood by the door, hands on their waists. Out of the loop, I had assumed that 911 had dispatched them to the scene, although I wasn't sure why.

After they left, I learned that one of them was friends with my sister. Having heard the call come through on the radio, he had taken it upon himself to stop by in case my mother became belligerent. Apparently, this frail, eighty-seven-year-old woman was public enemy number one in a city rife with actual criminals.

Since she couldn't tell the paramedics who the president was or the name of the most recent holiday (which I also got wrong, by the way) they told her that she needed to go with them to be evaluated. Naturally, she didn't want to leave her home.

Since I was the only one who seemed to be able to talk her down from these episodes, my sister asked me to convince her to go and, to my everlasting regret, I did just that. When I assured her that she would get to come back home, she agreed to go with them. Watching the paramedics, who had treated her with such condescension, lead her out passed the still-hovering policemen was a pathetic sight that time will never erase.

I met her at the hospital and stayed by her side into the wee hours of the morning. By then, she was sensible, but no one on duty seemed to care. When a nurse asked her how old she was, instead of giving her true age, her penchant for sarcasm kicked in and she quipped that she had just turned four-hundred and eighty-seven. Since no one we ever encountered in the hospital had a sense of humor, the nurse gasped and began asking a slew of follow-up questions. It was only after I explained that she was joking that the matter was dropped.

After who knows how long, the emergency room doctor finally came storming into the room. Her face completely uncovered despite the fact that the place was overrun with Covid patients, she spoke directly to me, never once addressing the actual patient. She informed me that they had performed a CAT scan, which showed that the brain bleed had righted itself, but it had been too little, too late. The mini-stroke had kickstarted dementia, plain and simple. The damage was done and could not be reversed. Her suggestion was that we find a long-term care facility as soon as possible.

My mom, having heard the entire conversation, looked stricken. My siblings and I had agreed long ago that under no circumstances would she be put in a nursing home. She wanted to live out her days under her own roof and we had promised to abide by her wishes, come what may.

They admitted her in order to run a few more tests that they deemed necessary. I kissed her goodbye and left for the night. She was released a couple of days later and, though happy to be home, her mental state continued to deteriorate at an alarming pace.

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They're Everywhere

As the disease progressed, my mother's world began to fill with frightening entities that terrorized her relentlessly. Even inanimate objects became her enemy, including the bed she had slept in for decades. After the disease took hold, she claimed that the mattress moved like a rollercoaster all night long, making it impossible for her to get any rest.

The angry mob that she believed had gathered in the front yard prior to her latest hospital stay, would return periodically, armed to the hilt, to threaten her life and that of her cat. Inside of the house, unseen men would stand on the basement stairs and whisper vulgar things that made her fear for her safety.

At other times, strangers would appear and present her with babies, giving her orders to protect them at all cost. She spoke often of her despair that something terrible would happen to one of the infants on her watch.

Since dealing with the harassment being doled out by the surreal beings who had invaded her home wasn't enough to contend with, she also began to suspect that some of the real people in her life were also up to no good, specifically my sister.

Although they had lived under the same roof for decades, they had never been particularly close. Perhaps this was why my mother began to accuse her first born child of trying to kill her. She also voiced her concerns that my sister was planning to put her away somewhere so that she could take everything she owned.

When these thoughts overwhelmed her, no assurances to the contrary would ease her worries. In the end, the person she relied on the most had become, at least in her mind, her worst enemy.

Understandably, the constant accusations of wrongdoing began to take a toll on my sister. As our mother's primary caregiver and power of attorney, she bore the brunt of the responsibility. Having never married or struck out on her own, she had more or less been allowed to live the life of a perpetual teenager. The unconventional arrangement had suited them both up until the time that our mother became the needier of the two. It soon became apparent that this sudden role reversal was something that neither of them was emotionally equipped to handle.

As peacemaker, I spent countless hours trying to soothe frazzled nerves on both sides. The most difficult aspect of this was my sister's refusal to accept that our mother, though physically present in this world, resided in another most of the time. She seemed unable to grasp the concept that, rather than trying to bring her back to our reality, we had to learn to be a part of hers.

In the coming months, there would be other falls that necessitated short hospital stays. After each one, her condition worsened. We learned quickly that the ferocity of her delusions would increase dramatically whenever she was forced to spend time in a strange place. On a few occasions, she would even lash out at the medical staff, which was completely out of character.

Late in October, I was visiting her at home when things took a drastic turn. The morning had gotten off to a good start with us sitting down and having breakfast together. We talked for quite a while and she had been lucid for the most part.

As the day progressed, some of her imaginary friends stopped by, including one woman who had apparently been sent to take her to an appointment. Ever so politely, my mom had informed her that she had company and therefore would have to cancel. Judging from what came next, it can be assumed that her ride had not taken the news well.

In the middle of their conversation, which I was observing from only a few feet away, my mother suddenly ducked before being overcome by a fit of the giggles. When I asked what happened, she said that the woman had thrown a biscuit at her. The incident was so funny that neither of us could stop laughing. I didn't know it then, but this carefree moment would be the last of its kind that we would share.

Later that afternoon, everything changed. It was evident that something was wrong when she had to use the restroom, but couldn't get out of her chair. Even with me holding her walker steady and trying to help her up, she wasn't able to stand. No longer communicative, she kept repeating the same thing over and over again: "I'm sorry."

Since there was clearly something wrong, I phoned my sister who showed up a few minutes later to access the situation. By then, mom's eyes were glazed over and she was completely incoherent. Not knowing what else to do, my sister once again called an ambulance.

This time, the option to stay or go wasn't even on the table. The paramedics took one look at her and informed us that she needed to go to the hospital immediately. It would be the final time that such an action would be necessary.

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Deliverance

After spending two days in the emergency room due to a lack of available beds, it was determined that she had a blood clot in one of her lungs. She was also malnourished, which wasn't surprising given her woeful lack of appetite.

Ever since the dementia took over, it had been like pulling teeth to get her to eat anything. Even though she was taking appetite stimulates that had been prescribed by her doctor, we were lucky to get her to take a bite or two of a proper meal on any given day. No matter what was on the menu, she would insist that it simply wouldn't go down.

The only thing that she enjoyed was sweets. Long before her diagnosis, she had lamented the fact that some of her meds had dulled her sense of taste. Her heart pills in particular had, according to her, made it impossible to detect anything on her palate other than sugar and salt.

Figuring that something in her stomach was better than nothing at all, we obliged when she requested a brownie for breakfast or a bowl of ice cream for lunch. To make up for the lack of nutrition, we supplemented her diet with ready-made protein shakes that were loaded with essential vitamins and minerals. Although this was a good idea in theory, sensing that they were good for her, she would grudgingly sip only a small amount at a time. More often than not, the drinks would end up being poured down the drain.

Things weren't any better under medical supervision. I would visit her in the hospital and find her breakfast sitting untouched on the tray, completely out of reach, an hour or more after it had been served. No one had even bothered to take the lid off or unwrap the utensils, much less offer her a taste.

After seeing this more than once, one of us would make a point of being there whenever possible to make sure that she ate something. Unfortunately, since pandemic regulations only allowed one visitor per day, we couldn't always be there for every meal.

About three days into her stay, I happened to hear the doctor talking to someone just outside the door to her room. Making no effort to keep his voice down, he informed them that the patient they were about to see had only two to four weeks to live.

As I was processing this information, a bearded physician whom I had never seen before walked in, accompanied by three residents. My mother was sound asleep as he explained that they couldn't treat the pulmonary embolism due to her previous brain bleed. It was simply too risky. At any rate, it didn't really matter. In his expert opinion, her dire condition was the result of late-stage dementia, not the blood clot.

After he left, a social worker entered the room and informed me that there were two options available to us moving forward. One involved my mother remaining in the hospital under hospice care. The other would allow her to go home and receive the same.

I told her that it wasn't my decision to make, but that my preference would be to bring her home. Everything was happening so fast that it didn't even dawn on me at the time to ask why she was dying all of a sudden.

Only a week earlier, she had been walking around the house, making her own bed, reading the Bible and chowing down candy. Now they were telling me that she would be dead in a matter of days. Even though I understood the words being spoken, they hadn't really registered.

My sister, who was the ultimate authority, agreed to bring mom home under the supervision of hospice. This meant that she would receive only the care that was required to keep her comfortable. It was explained to us that there would be no medical intervention, other than the monitoring of her vital signs and other basic functions. Their job, as it were, was to see her through till the end of life.

Since sitting up in a chair was no longer possible, a hospital bed was ordered and placed in the living room. For reasons that were never quite clear, when our mother returned home, she could barely speak above a whisper, making it difficult to see to her needs.

Once the hospice workers took over, things went downhill even more rapidly. Soon, she could hardly speak at all. Neither could she keep her eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time. She did manage to pipe up one day and exclaim that she was tired of "every Tom, Dick and Harry parading through her house." For that one brief moment, she had sounded like herself, and it had been wonderful to hear. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

She seemed to be growing weaker by the day. It didn't help matters that she was consuming next to nothing. When we took our concerns to the nurse, we were told that she no longer experienced hunger, since she was sleeping most of the time. This didn't ring true to me, and I tried to get her to take a drink or have a bite of pudding every time she came to, but by then she had lost the will to try.

Less than two weeks after she was brought home, I awoke to a call from my sister telling me that our mother had died. The sad end that should never have been, will haunt me for the remainder of my life. To see this woman, who was a powerhouse in her day, reduced to a shell of her former self, had been devastating to behold.

Dementia, and all that it entails, had taken every ounce of her dignity in the end, something of which I feel certain she was acutely aware. On the rare occasions that she was awake, it was apparent from the look in her eyes and overall demeanor that she hated her situation. As hard as her passing had been on those she left behind, I'm sure that it was a blessing for her.

Prior to losing her ability to communicate, she had spent much of her time talking to her brothers, sisters and mother, all of whom preceded her in death. Knowing that the loved ones she had missed terribly for years were waiting for her to join them, now gives us an odd sense of comfort. As horrible as the final leg of her journey had been, we believe that she was ultimately delivered into the arms of her family where, if there is any justice to be found in the universe, she is being held as we speak.

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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