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Thread: Happy Birthday... From a Stranger- When Dementia Hits Home

  1. #1

    Default Happy Birthday... From a Stranger- When Dementia Hits Home

    Today is my sister's birthday. She lives out west and we don't get to see each other very often. I wanted to wish her a happy birthday and have a chat.

    My brother-in-law, Dave, answered the phone and advised me she was sleeping. I told him not to wake her or disturb her. I asked if she had received the gift I had sent.

    "Yes she got it and she really appreciated it."

    "Did she remember me?" I asked.

    "Well, she's not having a very good day today, so her memory is not very good," he responded hesitantly as if not wanting to hurt my feelings.


    Up until this past year, I had no idea how fast dementia could hit a person and rip apart someone's spirit while taking away precious memories, even of the people closest to them.

    Dave began phoning us last year saying that my sister was becoming incoherent, not making any sense and he was really worried about her. I suggested he take her to the hospital immediately. She was kept there for observation, and in the month that followed we all had our ups and downs as the medical staff tested her for physical deficiencies, Alzheimer's and a lengthy list of illnesses, some which could be treated and others which... well, we didn't want to think about it at the time.

    There were days when they thought they isolated the cause and began treatment and there would be momentary successes only to relapse back into a state of leaving this world, at least mentally if not physically. After several months of trial and error, they identified the illness as Korsakoff Syndrome, a form of dementia which causes loss of memory. The cruelty of the illness is how fast it changes a person's life. From the time the symptoms first appeared, she was hospitalized and subject to a battery of tests and they kept her there until a spot opened up in a care home where she will spend the remainder of her days. She never got a chance to return home.

    This dementia is often caused by alcoholism. That's my sister all right. She and I are only fifteen months apart and because of our close age we were always together, getting into trouble together in our younger days. We went to the same concerts, hung out with the same friends, listened to the same music, and partied together. We partied hard, her more so than I. We were both drinking underage by the time I was thirteen. She could drink me under the table any day of the week. She was also my protector when I needed one. Even before I reached my teen years, there was little doubt I was gay, and subject to being harassed and bullied in school. My sister, on the other hand was a real scrapper, a tomboy who would often fight off my tormentors. Years later I managed to get off the booze, but she couldn't shake it off..She was a supervising nurse in a special care hospital but eventually she was fired because of how the alcoholism affected her work. She managed to keep the drinking under moderate control in later years but couldn't really leave it completely behind. Dave was always a positive influence in supporting her and getting her to AA meetings. Unfortunately, she had just done too much damage to her body and this illness was the result.

    In some ways she is more at peace now than before the time when the illness claimed her. Her memories are distorted and she often believes that she is still living in happier times, wondering where our old family cat is, and when our father was coming to visit, both of whom have been deceased for many years. The irony is that she is at her happiest when she is living in the past, when the illness is at its worst. Her hardest days are actually when she experiences moments of clarity, when she becomes lucid enough to be aware of her surroundings, that the horror and reality sets in and she recoils in fear of what will become of her. She deals with it by hiding and remaining in the past with the good memories.


    So today is not a good day for her.. Tomorrow is a whole new day with possibilities of recollections of people forgotten today, the people who were part of her life for many years. In the darkness of dementia, I can only hope that somewhere in there she can remember that there is someone who loves her.
    Last edited by Starrunner; 12-Apr-2016 at 17:46.

  2. #2

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    Thank you for sharing. I hope you too can cherish the good memories and remember there is someone who loves you.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Starrunner View Post
    The irony is that she is at her happiest when she is living in the past, when the illness is at its worst. Her hardest days are actually when she experiences moments of clarity, when she becomes lucid enough to be aware of her surroundings, that the horror and reality sets in and she recoils in fear of what will become of her. She deals with it by hiding and remaining in the past with the good memories.
    That's pretty saddening. I guess ignorance can be bliss in such circumstances. Better to retreat to happier times than be aware of the fact you are slowly and steadily losing yourself.

    Happy birthday to your sister. My best wishes to both of you.
    Last edited by Maybeshewill; 11-Apr-2016 at 10:38. Reason: typos

  4. #4

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    I know this feeling very well. My grandfather is currently dealing with Dementia, thankfully he hasn't lost any precious memories (that I know of.)

    Happy Birthday to your sister. I hope she remembers something amazing that will brighten both her day and yours.

  5. #5

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    I'm so sorry Starrunner. This must really be hard to watch happen. My favorite uncle died from Alzheimer disease. He was a brilliant man, head of the Ag. department for Rutgers University. He was one of the world's foremost experts on bird diseases. But more than that, he was so kind and caring to me when I was a little kid. He would take me on walks and identify all the plants and flowers we'd encounter. He taught me to identify a dozen different types of cows. All this kindness and a gift to make the world so fascinating, and then so quickly taken away.

    As you know, I had a hard time of it in college. I binge drank and smoked a lot of pot. The drinking continued long after graduation, even after I was married and a father. But about 10 years into that I technically died from a bleeding ulcer. I stopped drinking cold turkey and now I realized that I was actually being saved from myself. Sometimes I wonder, why me?

    So I grieve for your loss because I know how hard life is for many of us. Some of us survive it, and some don't. My SO from college is still alive and doing well, but his younger brother died several years ago from an almost life long use of drugs. It broke my heart because when I went home with Buzzy, I'd also be with his brilliant brother. We become bonded together and life goes on until it doesn't, and then it breaks our hearts.

  6. #6

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    Thanks for sharing. I can relate to you. My grandma has dementia. She's still in the early stages (I think) and is already not making sense. When me and family come to visit her she doesn't seem to recognize us. The only person she really recognizes is my grandpa, who has been her husband for longer than I have been alive. It's so sad to have all these memories of someone who's been a part of your life for your whole life and can't relate anymore.
    Last edited by demonic2786; 13-Apr-2016 at 14:32.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by demonic2786 View Post
    Thanks for sharing. I can relate to you. My grandma has dementia. She's still in the early stages (I think) and is already not making sense. When me and family come to visit her she doesn't seem to recognize us. The only person she really recognizes is my grandpa, who has been her wife for longer than I have been alive. It's so sad to have all these memories of someone who's been a part of your life for your whole life and can't relate anymore.
    I'm sorry this has happened. The last time I visited my grandmother, who also had dementia, she thought I was my father. I continued to talk to her as if I was my dad. It was emotionally difficult to do. I loved my grandmother very much and I still have fond memories of her, especially when I was very young.

  8. #8

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    My great-grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's and died before I was born. To this day, when I've spoken to my grandmother and my mother about her, it chokes them up and though they remember her fondly, they also remember what happened to her and the pain that they experienced. These sorts of illnesses are like ripples in the fabric world, and the pain that they create spreads outward from them. I don't know why they happen, some imperfection in our brains, in our environments, in the things we do to our own bodies, or merely in genetics. But they impact us all.

    If there is some redemption in them, I would say it is this: that when we are hurt by the loss of a loved one, we are reminded, forcibly, of the beauty and ephemeral nature of life and urged to hold close to those we love. There might be something to that, to the vulnerability shared by the weakest and the most might in our world that ties us together as people. I cant' say that it's worthwhile, or that I wouldn't eradicate every last bit of these horrid illnesses of the mind if it were in my power, but it gives me some solace when I look at the harm that one case of Alzheimer's has done to my own family.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, Starrunner.

  9. #9

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    Saddly they are not testing the cows for mad cow at Slaughter so the food chain is tainted.
    Plus they gave my aunt a doubled dose of flu vaccine now her mind is going.
    One doctor says stay away flu shots eat heathly .
    It's like the FDA is killing us off all the bad stuff band over seas is ok here to feed us.
    Alzheimer's is mad cow disease the same thing.
    It's been cured over seas also diabetes too.
    The FDA is keeping it out.
    Im sorry my aunt has it and my uncle has it too he is in a care home now .
    My mom like me do not eat beef or take flu shots we are ok.
    It's sad that your going through this take care.

  10. #10

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    Such a range of thoughtful, personal insights.... thank you, all.

    When this started and we realized my sister was not going to get any better, I thought about the ways we prepare ourselves to say goodbye to those we care about: losing someone through a breakup, a death, or someone moving away to another part of the world. We struggle to find the right words, but when it comes to an illness like dementia, there is no real way goodbye to the person we once knew. She is with us still, yet she is a completely different person than the one I knew and grew up with.

    I firmly believe that we are defined by our own personal stories. What my sister and I shared will not be forgotten, because no matter what kind of day she is having, I will always remember for both of us. As for her, she is accumulating and building new stories, and we can share in them. I stated earlier that my sister was a supervising nurse in a psych ward in a very large hospital many years ago After having been given a tour of the facility, I can attest that the work is not for the faint of heart. When she became ill with the dementia, she was hospitalized for several months before she was transferred to a care home (our health care system pays for the hospital costs). So during the time she was in the hospital, she thought she was back doing her work as a nurse. She would spend part of each day visiting the other patients on the floor, and then writing up detailed report about each of them. A the end of the day, she submitted them to the front desk staff, who thanked her and placed the reports on her file. They actually commented that her reports and observations were quite thorough and accurate. In spite of the illness, her nursing skills were still showing through.

    And so we will have new stories, not the kind we ever expected to have, but ones that reflect who she is today. We continue to get to know her, to learn to understand behaviours that sometimes seem eccentric, to love her and support her on the difficult days when she cannot remember who any of us are, There will still be good days ahead,, we just need to measure them differently.

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