We all know that dementia sucks. A lot. It steals so much from its victims and their friends and families. And it’s just damned depressing.
I’ve already talked some about how my mother’s Alzheimer’s affected me. I am angry and sad that I lost my mother for at least eight years before she died. I still want her every single day and did every single day from when she first went into the home until the day she died. I still remember that last time I was able to talk to her on the phone. She got so angry, not understanding what the phone was for anymore, and throwing it back at the nurses instead of talking to me.
Looking back on that conversation now, I realize it was more than just the anger. Mom knew damn well that she should know how to use that phone. She knew she needed to do something with it. But she just could not connect the dots anymore. She was angry, but she was also horribly depressed about it. Her depression was manifesting as anger at that moment.
She knew for a long time that she was sinking into the Alzheimer’s pit of despair, but didn’t want to admit it. It made her so angry, and I can’t blame her. It was making all of us angry. She would get so frustrated. I still remember one night, I was home visiting and we were trying to get her ready to go to bed. She had already been sleeping in her clothes for several days. In the mornings, she would maybe put on new clothes, but she would put them on over whatever else she was wearing. My father tried to get her to change her clothes, but he didn’t have the strength to make it happen. This one particular night, I followed her back into her bedroom, insisting she needed to put on pajamas. She finally looked at me and simply said, “I can’t,” and dissolved into a fountain of tears.
She literally couldn’t take off her clothes anymore. She didn’t know how.
Let me tell you how much fun it is NOT to have your mother sobbing on your shoulder, begging you to help her take off her clothes so that she can put on a nightgown. I somehow managed to hold it together in that moment, but cried my eyes out after I got her tucked into bed.
I hated every moment, almost as much as she did. My mother had a brilliant mind and taught me so much in life. Watching it all be stolen from her made me angry and made me supremely sad. For those of you who are superhero fans, remember that part in (I think) Infinity Wars where the dude disappeared speck by speck in a rapid wind? (Apologies – I don’t watch these movies. The one time I did was with friends the week after Mom’s funeral, so I was only absorbing bits and pieces, but remember that.) That is kind of like what it is like watching Alzheimer’s and dementia steal your loved one away. It starts off kind of slow and then POOF these pieces are all gone.
When I think back at my mother’s decline that last decade, really, I better understand the DABDA process (5 Stages of Grief) explained by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. For years we have tried to say that everyone going through the grief process is experiencing these emotions. To a point, that is true. But really, she was talking about those who have received a devastating diagnosis and are facing their own mortality. We really did ride that roller coaster with her.
Not only was she irritable, she also wasn’t sleeping well despite being exhausted. She was no longer even pretending to eat properly. Dad would try to feed her something normal. I would try to cook healthy meals when I was home. She just wanted to eat those damned Ritz Flipside crackers that were like half pretzel and half cracker and were brand new at the time. She stopped reaching out to friends and family.
Oh wait, I am describing those depressive symptoms that are so common to dementia patients, as well as others. In fact, some of the symptoms of depression and dementia are identical, thus making it difficult to distinguish the two at times early on. Please read this article from the Alzheimer’s Association for more details on diagnosing and treating depression in your loved one with dementia.
I feel like I could go on and on giving you even more examples of how I witnessed this depression manifest in my mother over those years. But honestly, it is making me too sad to think about at the moment. And I am not in the mood to cry at the coffee shop today.
Please, if you are dealing with your own depression related to a loved one with Alzheimer’s, reach out to your best sources of comfort. Visit support groups. Do things that recharge you and replenish you. See your doctor. Read this article, also from the Alzheimer’s Association, about Caregiver Depression and how to recognize it and treat it. Remember you may feel like you are all alone, but you aren’t. A lot of us understand. And the resources really are out there.
Catch up on the rest of my 2019 A to Z Challenge posts here.
Read my posts from previous A to Z Challenges, Letter D:
D is for Daughter (2012)
D is for Daddy (2011)
Read my other 2019 A to Z Challenge posts about my father on my other blog here.