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Snapshots of Dementia: Magnificent Obsession

Posted by on June 8, 2020 in Uncategorized | 17 comments

“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 if they were standards, shifting in and out of neutral in his quest for low numbers. And of course, he saw nothing unusual in any of this.

Sweets. He prided himself on not eating lunch at work, but he had an entire drawer of candy pilfered from the receptionist’s desk jar. He kept a stash of candy in his dresser drawer too. He also became increasingly obsessed with Wendy’s Frostys and would get one (or more) whenever he could. Some of his obsessions have changed through the years, but our local Wendy’s already knows him very well.

One of the things I had always loved about Tom was that he never did things “just because.” He thought differently; he looked at Scripture differently; and he made decisions differently. The creative in me responded to that and appreciated his heart and his character.

But the fact that he had always been different, even quirky, also kept me from researching these odd behaviors. I really thought they were just “Tom being Tom.” Our kids did too.

Of course, until the spring of 2019, I hadn’t heard of frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) or the behavioral variant. I didn’t realize patients with this condition often exhibit ritualistic behaviors, obsessions, and unusual changes in diet. If I had, I might have done more than watch and pray.

Now, when I see him exhibit the same behavior again and again or become agitated when one of his current obsessions can’t happen, I know it’s not just “Tom being Tom”—it’s his disease. And that way of thinking, along with a strong faith, has sustained me as I watch him changing before my eyes—even when some of his behaviors have broken my heart.

More about that next time.

OCD behavior comes into play in some other types of dementia as well. Have you noticed something like this in a loved one? You may want to consult with a medical professional. If your loved one has dementia with obsessions and you feel comfortable sharing, please tell us what you noticed. Your story matters.


  1. I think I mentioned that Larry’s brother, who never did house work, started vacuuming the house, the stainless sink had to be dried out and he would put away food before you were done eating. I think about these things whenever I get obsessive about house cleaning. I guess the difference is I have always been this way. My prayers go up for you and your family daily. Love and hugs to you.

    • You are just a great housekeeper, Debbie! One clue should have been that Tom had never cared about anything like that before. I didn’t add it all up for a while!

    • I love you guys! Thank you for your open heart.

      • And we are grateful. Always!

  2. Again, thank you for your vulnerability. Love you, sweet friend.

    • Hugs and thank you for listening, reading, and loving, always.

  3. Marti, thank you for sharing. I have special memories of Shelby’s dad…storing 40 bananas in his dresser drawer — all of varying ripeness! At the time we thought how horrible, but never thought of any dementia problem, but our eyes are opened now as to all we missed …keep writing – this will help those who are blind as we were.

    • Thank you. I think this is a particularly difficult issue, so I wanted to write about it. You’re a blessing!

  4. I may not always comment but I’m always absorbing your posts. You write with such clarity and compassion.

    • Mary, thank you for that encouragement. I’ve had some moments of doubt as I pull the curtain back. But if I can help even one person see something they may need to see, it’s worth it. Much love!

  5. I am so grateful for you and your transparency. I feel the same way about Dickson’s kidney disease. I wish I knew at the beginning what I came to know. I could have pressed harder to keep the kidneys stronger longer. I am so thankful that you have chosen to share your walk with us. Now we who are caring for aging parents and family or spouses can perhaps get a jump on this disease because our eyes are open. I know every case is different BUT I am appreciating the encouragement to look closer and ask questions. much love to you and your beloved.

    • Yes. I know this sounds as though I have a lot of regrets, and I do have some. But mostly I truly have a heart to help others. Dementia is awful enough without having to struggle for diagnosis. And I’m sure the same was true with Dickson’s situation. Hugs!

  6. Your transparency is creating and increasing awareness, helping equip others to accurately identify problems perhaps sooner than they would have otherwise.
    Still, I know such transparency carries with it its own ache as you rehearse painful thoughts and experiences.
    Thank you for obeying the Holy Spirit’s prompt for the good of His people and most of all for His glory!

    • You would know as well as anyone that practicing what you preach is a challenge. You’re SUCH a faithful friend, and I’m so grateful for your encouragement and prayers. Amen, sister!

  7. Thanks again for sharing…you had no way of knowing. Even with all my exposure to people with dementia I didn’t realize these were signs of the disease. Thanks for educating us all so we are aware.

    • Barbara, obsessive behaviors aren’t necessarily a part of every dementia. But they are very characteristic of Tom’s specific type and do come along with some others as well. Also, there’s a fine line between a normal behavior and something that becomes an obsession. That’s another reason I wanted to write this post. Now, it’s easier for me to spot because I know what to expect. But I don’t want to make it sound as though obsessions accompany every type of dementia; thanks!

  8. Marti, Thank you for bravely sharing your journey. You’re helping many people and we appreciate this window into the world of someone with dementia. My heart aches for what you’re going through. Praying for sustaining grace to carry you.

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