“Mom has dementia,” I told my 80-year-old father who lives in Aventura, Fla. The two have long been divorced.
“Does that mean she’s crazy?” he asked without malicious intent.
Sigh. “No, dad. It doesn’t mean she’s crazy,” I said somewhat defensively. “It simply means that she has memory issues. She has trouble remembering things, like where she put her car keys and when to pay her bills.”
My father’s response reflects the all-too-common lack of understanding of the word ‘dementia’ and its associated symptoms that I have encountered on this journey. I, myself, had been uninformed, until I discovered my mom’s condition two years ago. It was like a big shoe had dropped, and a whole new world was revealed to me.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is a general term (not a formal disease itself) used to describe a decline in mental ability that affects one’s ability to perform daily living activities. Memory loss is one example of such mental decline. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, making up 60 to 80 percent of the cases.
I live in Southwest Florida, on the same street and in the same gated community as my mother. My first red flag came when, for the first time in six years, she started to put her garbage and recycling out on the curb for pick-up on the wrong days. “This can’t be good,” I thought.
Then Pandora’s Box opened. Sign after sign I realized that she has dementia.
I observed the neighbors’ impatient response to her seemingly odd behavior, the homeowner’s association’s unsympathetic response to her unpaid bills, and the bank’s aggressive pursuit of her home when she forgot to pay her mortgage. I observed my own feelings of impatience and anger, not only with her, but with an outside world that appeared to have no compassion for her declining cognitive ability. They didn’t understand it, just as I hadn’t understood it.
What I know now is: Mom has dementia. And I, and many others, are forging a path that other adult children will soon follow. We will remove as much underbrush on the path as we can to make it easier for you on this journey.
The Peninsula and its staff are no strangers to the symptoms of dementia. The community features The Garden, a secured memory support residence, and offers staff trained in how to care for the residents and provide what they need most: love, understanding, security and a sense of dignity.