December 2016 Entry for Mysteries of the Mind
"Do you see them up there", my grandfather asked.
"See who Grandpa", I asked him, turning to look in the direction he was pointing.
"Those Indians", he replied becoming quite animated.
"No Grandpa" I replied. "I don't see them."
"Well I promise you they're there", he answered. "If we're very quite they'll pass by and not notice us."
Thinking it a little strange but knowing nothing about dementia I went inside and mentioned it to my mother. She told me that he had been watching "Indians" that nobody else could see for several hours. He said they would appear and then disappear again. What we didn't realize at the time was that dementia patients often see things that have occurred in their past. My grandfather had been born in 1906. The city in which he lived had been home to many Native Americans,who like everybody else, were trying to scratch out a living.
The occurrences of the native Americans would go on for months. Then winter would set in and he wouldn't be on the porch where he could watch them. Our first real dose of the dangers he was facing would come one night in mid-winter. It had been snowing all day and the air temperature was brrrr below zero. I was in my bed upstairs when a blast of cold air woke me up. It was typical of our door to blow open if the wind blew hard enough. We seldom ever locked it because it was an era when people could sleep with their doors open. Besides we were so poor we knew we didn't have anything worth stealing anyway. So I went downstairs to close the door, figuring I'd go ahead and lock it while I was at it.
When I got downstairs I found the door standing wide open and snow blowing into the house. I also noticed that my grandfather was gone. I knew he wasn't in the bathroom because it was standing open. I immediately knew he had taken off into the night! He had been acting quite strange of late. I awoke my mother and the rest of the family. My father as usual was passed out and there was no waking him. The rest of us, armed with flashlights and anything else we could find to disperse darkness waded into the snow to find our grandfather. Fortunately I had awakened shortly after he left so even in the falling snow we easily found his tracks. We followed them to our neighbor's house. Our neighbor had seen us coming. He was standing on his porch when we approached. "Lose something", he asked. "He wandered up onto my porch about fifteen minutes ago. He was cold so I took him inside and warmed him up. He's drinking some cocoa right now. I figured he came from your house since you're the only new people in the area. I had never met him before tonight. I was going to let him warm up some more and then bring him home."
The incident with the neighbor began a routine of having somebody on constant vigil with him. The somebody was usually me. I became his primary caregiver for the remainder of the time he was in our home. At one point he was coherent enough to talk to my mother. Her made her promise that no matter what happened we would never place him in a nursing home. She and I both promised him we'd never allow that to happen.
His condition continued to deteriorate. Finally he was bed ridden. Most of the time I was forced to use restraints to keep him in bed. It killed me to restrain him but I knew it was necessary to prevent him from falling and getting hurt even worse. The medical supply company had supplied us with restraints for him. The restraints allowed him to move his arms but wouldn't allow him to reach the other arm to take the restraints off. However the restraints came at a high price. I was not a nurse so I was untrained in preventing pressure sores also known as bed sores. He developed a huge one on his right hip. Surgery was required to correct it. When the surgery was completed the doctor called the family into a conference. He told us that my grandfather needed more care than we were capable of providing. He said we would have to sign the papers for admission into a nursing home. Failure to do so would result in the state doing it anyway. Mom and I were devastated. What made it even worse was the look on my grandfather's face as some recognition of where he was destined entered the fog that dementia had left behind. My grandfather died two weeks after his admission into the nursing home. Thirty years later my father died of dementia as well. It's thought that dementia is a genetic disorder. If nothing else takes you out before its onset, dementia will kill the members of succeeding generations. Does that mean I will also die of the disease? More than likely it does. Dementia I hate you!