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Snapshots of Dementia: Driven to Distraction, Part 2

Snapshots of Dementia: Driven to Distraction, Part 2

Photo by Khorena Sanders on Unsplash Author’s Note: This post is part two of a two-part series. Check out part one at this link, then pick up the story below. For one of the first times ever, I posted a brief summary of my concern on the Facebook support group I had recently joined for spouses or partners of those with frontotemporal degeneration (FTD). By this time, my kids and I had looked at the symptoms of FTD, behavioral type, and been amazed. After months and years of trying to find out what was wrong, here was a disease that looked like a perfect match. Why had no one mentioned this before? We’d have to wait for more testing, but it certainly looked like this was a possibility. I may write more about this later, but this group was rapidly becoming an information source, sounding board and source of encouragement for me. And this case, it was a lifeline. I shared the various driving-related incidents that had occurred and that we still didn’t have a real diagnosis or definitive answer. But to a person, everyone who responded (and there were more than 40 who did) to my question said: Do it now. Don’t delay. Keep him from driving no matter what. I read stories of accidents, of liabilities, of spouses who were still driving and had major problems. I read of doctors who refused to say the FTD patient needed to give up their license, only to have an accident occur. But mostly, I read what I’d already read on this site: Our story. And I knew it was time. I shared all this information (what had happened with their dad and driving, what our former pastor had said, what the other spouses had said) in brief with the next set of reinforcements I called in: Our children. I am sure I sounded at least somewhat irrational (after all, by this point, I probably had sleep deprivation.) But I could not in good conscience keep letting Tom out on the road. Or could I? I knew I needed the wise counsel of those who also loved him and wanted his best. I didn’t want to mess this up. I don’t actually remember which of our children I contacted, but I do know they all agreed to “talk amongst themselves.” The conclusion? No, Dad should not drive. Yes, they should help me tell him. Our two oldest daughters suggested they initiate a Skype call with Tom and me (this was before Zoom had reached its present-day popularity). “After all,” said one, not quite tongue-in-cheek. “He’ll know we must be serious if the two of us agree.” We made the call....

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Snapshots of Dementia: To the Man in the Red Pickup

Snapshots of Dementia: To the Man in the Red Pickup

Dear Man in the Red Pickup, Photo by Neonbrand on Unsplash I know you were angry yesterday morning as you hurried to work. Maybe you were late, and the older couple walking along your route didn’t help. I too have experienced frustration when a biker or pedestrian slowed my progress. It’s no fun, especially when you need to reach your destination on time. And of course, it didn’t help that this road had no sidewalks. What was this couple doing out there anyway? Because I work in a world of words, I often see information as the answer to everything. Still, I realize you may not be interested in information. But since I remained silent while you screamed and swore at my husband, I thought I’d offer more of the story—albeit a little late. You see, there’s at least one thing you couldn’t have known about him: He has an early-onset dementia called FTD (frontotemporal degeneration) that prevents him from making wise, quick decisions. So when you tried to teach him a lesson by staying firmly in your lane yesterday, and he didn’t move, he wasn’t being stubborn—at least, not in the way you or I might be. He simply isn’t able to process a concept such as “A truck is coming. It may not stop or move over. I should get out of the way” fast enough to do what you expected. I realize you saw his behavior as arrogant and rude. But this is far from the truth. Until about two years ago, he was a pastor who loved (and still loves) God and people. Even at his best, he would have thought you should respect him as a pedestrian, but I doubt he would have challenged you by remaining in your lane. Now, he just can’t think fast enough to move over, even when I tell him to (which I did as you approached us). So even though you told him, “Next time, I won’t stop,” I’m not sure he has the mental ability to change his behavior. My husband’s dementia also causes obsessions. One of his current ones is walking, and so the two of us walk at least 3.5 miles every morning and nearly that far every evening when he’s not too tired (his dementia also causes exhaustion). Several months ago, our family made the decision not to let him walk alone anymore. Although he knows about the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, he can’t follow the steps needed to carry out those restrictions on his own. His lack of logic also means that more than once, I’ve had to pull him back from crossing a street as a car headed right toward him....

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Snapshots of Dementia: ‘But He Seems So Normal’

Snapshots of Dementia: ‘But He Seems So Normal’

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay “But he seems so normal.” “I can’t even tell there’s anything wrong.” “He’s still so funny!’ “Are you sure?” I’ve heard all of these statements and more in our journey to and beyond Tom’s diagnosis with early-onset dementia (in his case, frontotemporal degeneration, or FTD). I don’t blame anyone for saying these things. Tom looks normal. He can still carry on a conversation. He still dresses, bathes and feeds himself (granted, he needs lots of reminders these days.) He still has his trademark sense of humor. In other words, he’s still very much Tom. And yet as I’ve shared, his dementia has stolen so much of his life. He can no longer hold down a job, drive or manage finances. Other than a few simple songs, he can no longer play his beloved trumpet. He has trouble making even the simplest of decisions. And the online golf game he loves? I’ve had to not-so-jokingly ban him from calling himself “stupid” or “moron” the many times he fails to make a shot. And as I’ve also shared, Tom has made other “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad” decisions that have hurt himself and our family. For a season, he withdrew in large part from his relationships with me and with our children. Although he has declined in his cognitive ability in multiple ways, few are immediately obvious. His short-term memory seems to get shorter all the time. On average, he “loses” objects at least five times a day, often convinced they are gone forever and amazed when I easily find them. His appetite for sweets, always strong, has become voracious, and before a recent surgery, his obsession with walking (something he rarely wanted to do prior to this year) had increased so much that we were walking anywhere between 14,000-18,000 steps a day (yes, I’m thankful that so far, the last two seem to balance each other out!). And yet no one who saw him for a few minutes or even a couple of hours would know any of this (unless, of course, they’d been reading these posts). So yes: “He seems so normal.” And before my experience with Tom’s dementia, I know I looked at other dementia patients and thought the same thing. Oh, the disease must not be as bad as they thought. She seems so normal. Dementia is like many other disabilities in that it often remains hidden. Some of you have praised my transparency now. But in the three-plus years it took us to obtain a diagnosis, I kept very quiet. I shared my concerns with a tiny handful of close friends and our children. After all, the doctors kept saying...

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Snapshots of Dementia: Tom and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Idea

Snapshots of Dementia: Tom and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Idea

Photo by William Hook on Unsplash Sometimes, dementia has a humorous side. Tom and I have a running joke about his “good ideas.” Part of him realizes he doesn’t always make the right choices, but not enough to keep him from making the next wrong choice. One dementia spouse described it this way: “The part of him that says, ‘That’s not a good idea’? That’s gone. If you’ve been following these posts, you may have noticed a few of these “good ideas,” some much more serious than others. Here are a few more: —One day, I came home to a horrible smell. He couldn’t tell me what had happened, but I quickly figured out that Tom had poured nearly a quart of gasoline down our kitchen sink. Our son had drained the gas from a scooter he was repairing, and Tom decided we needed to get rid of it. (Besides the judgment problem, this incident helped me realize he had lost his sense of smell, also courtesy of his disease.) —Another day, I came home to find scraps of one of my thin acrylic cutting boards in the trash. When he couldn’t find the pan he wanted, Tom had used the board as a baking pan for a can of cinnamon rolls. He knew something was wrong, but when I asked him about it, he couldn’t even name the “pan” he had used. (He also said the rolls tasted fine!) Just as with the gasoline, God’s grace prevented a fire. —One memorable evening found me typing away in my upstairs office when I heard a sound no one wants to hear: a scream, then a crash. I must have skipped several stairs in my hurry to reach a moaning Tom, now lying on the floor of our two-story great room. Determined to put up a new television antenna he’d received for Christmas, he had climbed to the top of our 12-foot ladder and stood on top. When he still couldn’t reach the window ledge where he hoped to place the antenna, he began to make his way back down and, as he said, “only” fell from the eight-foot level. The emergency room doctor was amazed that he ended up with no broken bones or other serious injuries. I was too. —Last August, while we were staying with our friends awaiting the sale of our home, Tom locked himself out of his cell phone, something that has happened multiple times before and since. Convinced it was broken, he wanted to visit the cell phone store. The problem? I was at work, and the friends we were staying with couldn’t take him to the store till later that afternoon. An adult...

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Snapshots of Dementia: Tangled

Snapshots of Dementia: Tangled

“They told me they would take care of it,” Tom told me the other day. “Who? Who would take care of what?” It took at least three or four more questions for me to pull enough from him to know what he meant. He had called our pest-control company to see if they could return to our home to take care of a problem. Because he often rambles or talks in circles now, I try to listen in on calls like this when he insists on making them. This time, he had gone to the other end of the house. But what he did in this brief conversation is something that’s happened many times in the past few years. I call it “beginning in the middle.” He starts partway through what most people would consider a normal train of thought. It’s as though he assumes I know what he is thinking before he says it. And through the grace of God, sometimes I’ve learned to do just that. A few months before we moved, I was at work, and Tom sent me an email that “began in the middle” and thus made little sense. But God, the revealer of mysteries, helped me interpret what he meant and give the answer he needed. Tom didn’t think anything unusual had happened. But by this time, I did. Of course, before I knew he had frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), I couldn’t figure out why these communication mixups kept happening. And although I suspected something was wrong, I didn’t see how these strange episodes fit into a pattern of anything. Except they did. I don’t ever see the term “tangled” on a list of dementia characteristics, but that’s how I picture his thoughts. So often, they seem hopelessly tangled, the way a ball of yarn looks after a kitten gets hold of it. Sometimes a piece breaks free, and we can follow it for a long while. Other times, one tangle only leads to the next. I believe this “tangled” problem relates to the loss of executive function I mentioned in my previous post. It’s one of the reasons I believe Tom can no longer hold down a job. The more his symptoms increased, the more tangled his thoughts and behaviors became. And it seems almost everything he touched (bill paying, taxes, work, and more) became tangled as well. Back when he still handled our finances, he never wanted to set our mortgage in Florida up on automatic payments; he preferred to pay the bill himself every month. But for at least two years, I often found him scrambling to pay it at 11 o’clock p.m. the day it was due, then running into...

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Snapshots of Dementia: Magnificent Obsession

Snapshots of Dementia: Magnificent Obsession

“What are you doing?” I asked my husband as he carefully scooped out the potato casserole, left over from our Easter dinner and still in its original glass baking pan. “Just putting it into the right size container.” “Why? The kids are still here, and we’ll eat a lot more of it by tomorrow.” No answer. He continued scooping. Whatever, I thought. Never mind that the cornflake topping is now in the middle. It’ll still taste good. But I still wondered. (I did a lot of wondering back then.) Why does he care where the leftovers are? He’s never been interested in kitchen tasks.   As the weeks went on, I realized it wasn’t just the holiday leftovers he wanted in smaller containers. If I accidentally left more than an inch of room at the top of any leftover, he would find a way to go behind me and cram it into the next-size-smaller container. We’re spending more money washing all these different containers than we save by eating leftovers, I told myself. “It’s like you’re obsessed with this!” I joked one day. No answer. Of course he wasn’t obsessed. Or was he? I wouldn’t discover the answer until nearly two years later. By this time, I had noticed this same obsessive behavior in the following areas (not an exhaustive list): —Hair. For a year or two, he obsessed over getting his hair cut. Within a week or two of a trim, he would insist he needed another. I could barely get him to wait a month between haircuts. He could never seem to style his hair the way the barber did (his regular barber, a family friend, even mentioned this to me), but the super short cut during this phase meant he didn’t have much to style. —Bananas. We had the blessing of staying with friends for about four months while we waited for our home to sell. The husband gave Tom a new nickname during this period: Banana Man. I bought bananas; they bought bananas, and he still ate every one in sight. I know this phase has ended because last week, he went through only one bunch. —Gas Mileage. We owned a Prius and liked it so well that we bought another. But having a hybrid seemed to multiply Tom’s long-held concern for saving money. He had always been an aggressive driver. Now, he became a maddeningly slow one. He would compete with himself to get the most mileage on his daily trips to work and back. At one point, I realized he didn’t even want me to drive “his” car because my mileage record didn’t match his. Eventually, he drove our two automatic cars as...

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