If you’re a baby boomer, the chance is 50/50 that you’ll be dealing with a parent with dementia, if you haven’t already. Ron Whitaker found himself in that position, and decided he’d better learn more. Much more.
I’d like to take you on a journey. It’s one I took several years ago, and though it wasn’t pleasant, it was educational.
It’s a journey into the mind. Not mine, but my father’s.
At the time it started, I was living in a different state than my parents. They were in California, where I grew up; I was in Utah.
My mother called me one day to say that my father had been hospitalized. And dementia was setting in. We were told it might have been the result of medications but no matter what the cause, the result was a sad permanent change in my father.
At the time, I was clueless about the disease. I had only heard of it, but hadn’t had any personal experience with it. That was about to change.
My father’s health continued to decline, and in 2005 I moved back to California to help with my parents. My mother was getting to a point where she couldn’t care for my father on her own.
That’s when I got a first-hand education on the effects of dementia.
Soon after moving back, my parents and I began a weekly family tradition of traveling to a neighboring town on Saturday mornings where we would first go to Walmart and my mother would do her weekly shopping, then we would head over to a Hometown Buffet for breakfast. (Great breakfasts there, by the way!)
On one particular Saturday morning, I was driving, my father was in the passenger seat, my mother in the back.
had just pulled out of the driveway when my father exclaimed “I thought Ron was coming with us!”
With raised eyebrows I replied, “I’m right here.”
“Oh,” my father replied.
That was my first run-in with Dementia Dad.
During that early period after I first moved back, I was working full-time during the week.
I slept in a mobile home that still sits next to my parents’ home. It had once been occupied by my grandparents before their passing.
Late one night I was almost asleep when my cell phone rang. I jumped up knowing it was my parents, since I had assigned them a specific ringtone.
I could hear the panic in my mother’s voice as she told me to get over to the main house quickly.
I hated those moments. Not because I had been awakened, or needed to help, but the heart-pounding, stressful, please-don’t-be-anything-serious quick prayer you repeat during those times.
I got over to my parents’ house, only to find my father holding a loaded pistol in his hand, and waving it around.
Another dementia moment. This one pretty serious!
It was also one of those surreal moments that you only expect to happen in a movie or a television drama series. But this was real.
After a few moments of talking calmly to my father, repeating that it was late and he needed to get to bed, I finally had to (carefully!) wrangle the gun out of his hand. And it wasn’t so easy, at that.
Thankfully, catastrophe was averted… and I hid the gun!
A while after that incident, my mother was speaking to someone about my father and sadly explained that when a loved one suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s, and they’re just not thinking clearly, you simply can’t enjoy them anymore because they’re simply not themselves.
Sad. But true. It’s like another person in the house. Not the one you grew up with.
After my personal experience with dementia, and thanks to a local workshop I attended last summer, I feel somewhat more educated on the topic. Definitely not an expert, but more informed.
For example, I had been confused about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Though I had heard of them both, the difference never really hit home until my father developed it. There’s no better teacher than experience.
Many facts about Alzheimer’s are alarming. One of them is that nearly half of those over 85 years of age in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s.
Being a visual designer, I took some of the information found in the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures pamphlet, along with the information found in an article on Alzheimer’s, to create an infographic.
The facts are eye-opening! But if you’re a baby boomer, there’s half a chance you’ll be dealing with a parent who has it. And you’d better understand more than you probably understand today.