Common Sense Caregiving: The Time Traveling Dementia Patient

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Common Sense Caregiving: The Time Traveling Dementia Patient

Columnist Gary LeBlanc

Mr. Gary LeBlanc is a health columnist specializing in dementia care. He has authored over 350 articles on the subject.

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time? I’m sure that most of us have dreamt of this at some time or another.

Well, I can’t tell you how many times my father would ask me if he had to go to school in the morning. When I would finally get him settled down into bed at night, the disease of Alzheimer’s would often transport his mind back into the school days of his youth.

And just this past weekend, my mother, whose vascular dementia is starting to snowball downhill; didn’t want to believe I was me, because of the amount of gray hair in my beard. Trust me, that gray has been there for quite a long time. However, to her at that moment, her son was supposed to be young. One can only wish!

Sadly, most dementia related diseases first attacks a patients’ short-term memory and then gradually disintegrate their long-term.

When my dad was initially diagnosed, the doctor explained how his memory would commence to disappear. He told us to picture the brain as a globe full of roads and highways. When a road is first being built, it usually starts out as a path through the woods. As you push your way through the brush and branches of the forest, they all snap back into place as you go by, but after it is traveled many times the limbs get broken and the path gets wider and easier to travel. Consider these fresh born paths as your short-term memories. Eventually these paths become roads and highways. These are the routes that your mind has traveled thousands of times to, let’s say, your childhood memories. These are your long-term memories.

Of course my father inquired of his doctor, “So, you’re telling me I’m going to get lost in the woods.”

Basically, people with dementia may meet someone new, hear a new story or be asked to do something; the remembrance of these things can be washed away within minutes or even seconds as they lose their short-term memory.

Unfortunately, their long-term becomes a thing of the past as well. Even the names of their closest loved ones become out of reach for them. I realized one day that I actually knew my own father better than he knew himself. He could no longer remember his childhood, but on the other hand, I knew it quite well from all the stories he had told me throughout my lifetime. I’m so glad I had listened!

Always cherish those moments, even if it’s the one-hundredth time you’ve heard the tale. You might be the only one left that holds the key to the perishing part of their history.
When they do travel back in time in their minds, let them enjoy it. There’s no telling how long they may have those memories.

When they forget who you are, be mindful of the fact that you’re still in their minds and souls, and the image of you that they are seeing may just be an older version of you that they do not recognize. The road to get to the current you may be washed out or barricaded; they may not be able to travel to where you are at that moment.

You’re still in their hearts and always will be.