It has been a while since I’ve posted about Mom. While the early days, months, and years of our journey down Dementia Road were fraught with new challenges, things I’d never expected, and a fair sampling of, “What the fucks?”, we’d kinda reached a sort of homeostasis. Routine. Not much to write about. But lately, I see things changing. And so did one of Mom’s friends, who asked me if she was getting worse.
The type of dementia Mom has is cerebral vascular. It is caused when there is a lack of blood flow to the brain, through either a full-blown stroke, or a series of “mini-strokes“, technically known in the medical community as transient ischemic attack (TIA). Unlike many other conditions that result in dementia, vascular dementia (VaD) is largely preventable through a healthy cardio-vascular lifestyle. Not smoking. Limiting alcohol or not drinking at all. Eating healthy and exercising. Controlling diabetes and cholesterol. All those things that keep your heart pumping nicely and your arteries clear.
But once the barn door has been opened, and the horses are grazing on the grass, as in Mom’s case, the best and only treatment is to keep the already compromised cardio-vascular system as healthy as possible to slow progression.
If You’ve Met One Person With Dementia…
The thing about dementia, in all it’s many forms, is that no two people present the same, even with the same diagnosis. Some sources I’ve read say that vascular dementia can progress rapidly, and that the life expectancy is about five years. But Mom hasn’t progressed rapidly and her diagnosis was four years ago. In my completely non-medical, lay-person, non-expert opinion, this is because we’ve gotten all of Mom’s underlying chronic conditions—heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension—under good control. The platforms that could progress her conditions are stable.
But that does not mean there is a way to stop decline. And there definitely is no reversing it. Dementia is not curable. So, when in the last two months or so, I started to notice subtle declines, I got worried. My rose-colored glasses fell right off my face.
Yes, She Is Getting Worse
Christmas and the obligatory decorations are a big deal for Mom. But this year, she barely helped me put up the decorations, and bailed completely on taking them down. That was new. While we were putting them up, she gave up completely when it came to the baubles on the tree. She just sat there on the couch, like the proverbial government supervisor, telling me where to place them. When I started to take down the tree, she announced that she didn’t, “…understand my system!” and stalked off to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher. (Which presents its own challenges—usually me trying find where she put stuff—or in this particular case, instead of unloading the dishwasher, she loaded dirty dishes into clean.)
A few weeks ago, after spending the afternoon with Mom’s grandchildren (my nieces) Mom ask who were the parents of my niece and nephew (Mom’s grandchildren.) It was a startling moment for me to have to tell my mother that her daughter was their mother. Even more so by how unfazed she seemed about my answer.
Do I Know You?
Then one of her oldest friends, who she has been having lunch with once a week for easily 20 years, asked me if Mom was getting worse. Mom’s friend Donna had noticed that Mom seemed to look right through her over the lunch table, like she wasn’t entirely sure who Donna was.
So What Now?
The best thing that I, and those who love Mom, can do now is just keep her healthy, happy, and aware of how much we love her. Hopefully, this is all just a little slip, and we’ll be back in a new level of homeostasis for another couple of years. If not, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.