The pop culture vision of senile dementia is the doddering eccentric, who calls her grandkids by the wrong name, makes non-sequitur commentary whenever it’s devastatingly funny to do so, and genially bungles her way through the “golden years.”
The reality is that dementia sneaks up on a person and can turn a person who was wonderfully daffy, witty, adventuresome, and interested in the world into someone who is frustrated, peevish, suspicious, who lashes out against the constraints her failing cognition is overlaying on her lifestyle.
The past four years or so have been very rough on my Mother In Law, and subsequently upon her son, Joel and on me. Most especially so after Joel died, as he was her main anchor to reality, and the one for whom she would pull it together as much as she could. After Joel died, the slow, decline that had been creeping up on her over the course of probably five or six years began to spiral downward precipitously. In the past sixteen months or so, she has gone from a woman with cognitive impairments, language impairments, some physical limitations, but still a strong sense of who she was and what she has done in this life, to a woman who is nearly bed-bound, who is refusing food, whose ability to communicate verbally is all but fled entirely.
Today, I visited her, and found a very ill, weak, disoriented woman. On Monday, I am to meet with her care team to discuss Hospice options.
Dementia is one of the worst ways to go out. It is a long, slow, terrifying, inexorable slide to the end. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.