Lately it seems, I am constantly running into people stumbling through the care of their parents. I realize there are many reasons for this phenomenon. One is of course my age. At mid 50’s most of my friends and acquaintances have elderly parents as I once did. The other is that because I went through this journey with my mother I am open to discuss the emotional ups and downs. The frustrations of dealing with uncaring hospitals and doctors, the joy of finding the perfect fit for a parent with caring doctors and nurses. And the fright of walking everyday down a path that you truly don’t want to be on. Getting a diagnosis for dementia can be heart wrenching for all involved, the parent, spouse and the child.
After Mom moved in with me, I luckily found a geriatric doctor who had established his practice based on making house calls, he did not actually have an office. Dr. C was a kind, calm man and my mother immediately trusted him. Over the course of several visits he took the time to get to know my mother, her past life and to understand my concerns. Eventually, Dr. C instructed me to make an appointment at the nearby dementia clinic. With dread, because I felt I knew what the answer would be, I made the call. The expert there concluded what Dr. C already knew. Mom was suffering from dementia. The question remained, How or should Mom be told?
Following is an excerpt from my upcoming book A Slow Slide into Nothing.
With guidance from Dr. C, we determined it was best for him to tell Mom the truth about her condition. He arrived on one of those summer days that makes me realize why I live in upstate New York. The sky was bright blue, with light green spring leaves just beginning to turn to their darker summer shades. The temperatures and humidity were at a level to enjoy the warmth of the sun and the cool breeze, as it brushed the hair from my face. I longed to be outside doing something, anything, different from what was happening in my home.
While Roxann and I gently took Mom hands, Dr. C, with his kind eyes and soft voice, gently told her she had dementia. It was brutal to watch her expression change from denial to realization. Mom asked a few questions, then became silent and eventually lost interest in what was going on around her. Roxann and I questioned Dr. C as to what we should do next.
Later that evening, Mom did not seem bothered at all by this news and the three of us avoided the topic like the proverbial elephant in the room. Roxann and I were amazed at how she accepted her fate so easily.
Mom’s reaction became apparent and heart wrenching upon Dr. C’s next visit and for subsequent visits afterwards, each time, Mom would ask him the same question. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe him, the truth was, she couldn’t remember from visit to visit what he had told her. I grieved each time along with her. In a strong voice, determined to handle her own life and the unknown, she would ask,
“What is wrong with me?”
Dr. C would answer every time as gently as he did the first: “Corki, you have