Author, Collaborative Writer, Editor - Learn More

Snapshots of Dementia: And Now, the Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For

Snapshots of Dementia: And Now, the Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash It took us forever to reach this point in mid-September of 2019. In fact, it took not only the visits over three years to neurologists Nos. 1, 2 and 3, but also a 50-plus page questionnaire/application, prayer and what the brain clinic in South Florida said would be a long wait. But only a few days after I submitted the paperwork via certified mail, the clinic called with a sudden cancellation. Could we come in just a few days? You know my answer. As I drove the three-plus hours from Orlando, I prayed this would be that long-awaited moment: The diagnosis that said yes, Tom has dementia. The diagnosis that said yes, it’s FTD (frontotemporal degeneration). The diagnosis that would move him closer to qualifying for disability payments. I decided to travel the distance to neurologist No. 4 because we had reached a stalemate. After two tries, our insurance wouldn’t approve the PET scan neurologist No. 3 said she needed to differentiate between FTD and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Already struggling to cover our bills without Tom’s income, I wasn’t about to pay the estimated $5,000 cash for the scan. So I decided to visit one more neurologist—this time, one recommended by the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration. I hadn’t known to check their list earlier because, until neurologist No. 3, I hadn’t known about FTD. After a slight GPS-induced detour, we arrived for our longest neurology visit to date. I found the team: — Thorough: The group, which included a dietician, physical therapist, nurse practitioner and social worker, met with Tom and me individually and collectively. The exam included neuropsychological testing as well. — Knowledgeable: I knew more about FTD now than I ever had, but this team knew more. That might seem obvious, but it had not proven true with doctors prior to neurologist No. 3. —Caring: This was the first appointment where anyone expressed concern for my mental and emotional health. Just having someone express empathy for our journey meant a lot.  The team members were more empathetic than the doctor, who seemed distant, even rude, but I happily accepted knowledge over hand-patting, especially when receiving the latter from anyone came as a surprise. After all the exams and discussions, the entire team met with both of us to give us what they’d promised at the start of our appointment: A diagnosis. In brief, here’s what they said: 1. Tom definitely has dementia. He shows marked impairment in several tested areas, in memory but also in logical sequencing and other elements associated with executive function. His 2019 MRI also shows marked shrinkage from the 2017 one, particularly in the frontal area of...

Read More

Snapshots of Dementia: Sometimes, We Cry

Snapshots of Dementia: Sometimes, We Cry

Unsplash/K. Mitch Hodge I heard Tom before I saw him. As he came through the front door, he sobbed. Working to sort, discard and pack our belongings in advance of putting our Florida home on the market, I’d had a few moments to myself while Tom went with one of our daughters to the county dump. He had driven one car and she, another. (Only a few weeks later, we had to take away his keys.) “Baby! What’s the matter?” I called out as I hurried to meet him. His shoulder shook and the tears poured down his face. “I just hate it when I get things mixed up,” he said. “I bet [our daughter] is so mad at me.” He’d forgotten where the dump was, a lapse that cost them extra time. And no, our daughter wasn’t upset, but it took him several moments to calm down. If you asked Tom about his illness today, he would say he has early-onset dementia, although he might not be able to tell you its name. But back then, we still had no diagnosis, and most of the time, he exhibited the typical FTD anosognosia or lack of awareness of his cognitive lapses and their effects. As our life continued to spiral in scary directions, this proved at best frustrating and at worst maddening. That day, I realized something: I prefer it when he remains unaware. If he doesn’t know he’s forgotten, doesn’t realize he’s caused some sort of problem, doesn’t understand it’s not the website’s fault or the phone’s fault or the television’s fault but his own, he doesn’t understand his decline. And he doesn’t cry. That wasn’t the first day Tom cried, but it was the last for a while. He didn’t cry when, that same week, he made an inappropriate (not sexual) comment to a female friend. He didn’t cry when I put the house on the market. He didn’t cry when, night after night, I would come home from a long day at work, cook dinner, pack or do freelance work while he played on his phone, watched television or slept. He didn’t cry when our children traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to help us move—or when they left (two for what we thought at the time would be years overseas). The disease has affected the part of his brain that controls emotional reactions, and the damage is uneven. Sometimes his responses are exaggerated, and at other times, blunted. With his and other dementias, what you see happening is not always what you get by way of response. Sometimes, he still cries. We have recently begun attending in-person worship despite his vulnerability to COVID-19 because our...

Read More

Snapshots of Dementia: 3 Lessons From Lincoln for Grandma (and any Caregiver)

Snapshots of Dementia: 3 Lessons From Lincoln for Grandma (and any Caregiver)

Tom meets his grandson, 1 month old. Dear Lincoln, You’re too young to read this although I’m sure, as advanced as you already are, it won’t be long before you are reading not only letters but entire books. First of all, I want to wish you a great  big HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Grandpa and Grandma love you very much and can’t believe you’re already 3 years old. As soon as you’re old enough (and hopefully no sooner), someone will tell you about the sad things that happened many years ago on this day. I want you to know that your birthday has given 9/11 new meaning for our family. We do remember the sad things, of course, but we also celebrate the wonderful ones—like you. And do you know what? That’s just who you are in our lives. Your joy in the world God has given us has helped change what might otherwise be a sad time into one of wonder and delight. Watching you play and laugh with Grandpa blesses me more than you can possibly know. You love him in a pure and powerful way that amazes, inspires and challenges me every time. He even told me once that he doesn’t have to worry about what he might say or do around you because he knows you love him no matter what. That is a huge gift to us both. I want to share with you three things I have learned from you, Lincoln. And all three of them help me do a better job taking care of Grandpa. 1. COMPASSION: Grandpa coughs a lot, and sometimes he stumbles. And almost every time you’re around when he does one of these things, I hear you say, “You OK, Gwampa?” Your heart of concern helps me not taking even the smallest or most-repeated issues for granted. Lincoln, Grandpa is always more OK whenever he is with you. 2. PRESENCE: You love nothing more than having Grandpa and Grandma come up to your room and play, or sit beside you on the couch or even travel with you on the iPad as you videochat with us. We love the pictures you color, the cards you “sign” and the crafts you make. But even at only three years old, you’ve already taught me: Presence is the very best present of all. 3. CELEBRATION: Grandpa and I still laugh about the day you told us, “I’m so amazing!” I’m glad you have so much wisdom at such a young age. You are amazing, Lincoln, because of an amazing God who loves you even more than we do and made you “in an amazing and wonderful way” (Ps. 139:14a, NCV). We need to...

Read More

Snapshots of Dementia: Third Time’s the Charm

Snapshots of Dementia: Third Time’s the Charm

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash Before I started these “Snapshots of Dementia” blog posts, I asked my Facebook friends about the idea. The volume and intensity of responses amazed me. I remember thinking at the time, OK, people, I hope all of you who said yes will read it. And you have. I’ve had more interest in these dementia posts than anything else I’ve written here (I posted regularly for a few years before Tom’s health began to go downhill and I took a full-time job.) So as a preface to today’s post: THANK YOU! I am grateful my words make a difference. I believe our story matters, or I wouldn’t share it. Ultimately, I pray it makes enough of a difference that others won’t have to wait so long for diagnosis or disability or even just plain old understanding (reference: man in the red truck). But in the meantime, I am living this journey as well as writing it. And this week, that’s been a challenge. For now, let’s just say the government and the medical profession are working hard to make sure I have more to write about. At the point where I last shared about our progress, we had finally visited Neurologist No. 2, with fairly unsatisfactory results. I was on my way to making an appointment with Neurologist No. 3: In the meantime, to review the medical part of our journey so far: 1. Neurologist No. 1 (two visits, a year-plus apart): “He’s fine, just short-term memory problems, no worse than my 80-year-old Alzheimer’s patients.” 2. Neuropsychologist (one visit for testing, one for feedback): “He’s fine, just ADHD and shame from poor behavioral choices. He can do better.” 3. Neurologist No. 2 (two visits a few weeks apart): “He’s sort of fine. He has depression. I need to watch him closely.” (No, thank you). You may recall I had already enlisted the help of a prayer team. One of those prayer partners, a dear and longtime friend, is also a registered nurse whose husband has Parkinson’s Disease. As she and I talked, I expressed my concern that Tom might have Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB), a Parkinson’s related disease (it has gained recent notoriety because comedian Robin Williams apparently had this diagnosis). He had several Parkinson’s-type symptoms (I’ve written about the tremors, and he also drags his feet when he walks and sometimes stumbles.) From what I had read about DLB, I knew it might be a match. My wonderful friend urged me to seek (and even helped me seek) the care of a neurologist who was also a movement specialist. I called and explained our situation and secured an appointment. They needed Tom’s...

Read More

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....

Read More
css.php