Living with Dementia

Yesterday my mother and father went to my grandmother’s house to take her car away from her.

She already had her license suspended because of her dementia. But she refused to give up the car. Mostly because, although she promised she wouldn’t, she was still driving it.

On Tuesday my parents got a call from the Bensalem Police Department. Mommom had been parked outside of a barber shop. She said her car had broken down. She couldn’t remember where she was going. And she had to be pressed to give the police my mother’s number.

I suspect she was ashamed.

When they towed her car away, they found that there was nothing wrong with it, mechanically. I think she was just lost and scared. And she knew that, if they towed her car, they would take her home.

Dementia must be terrifying. And a lot of the things that go along with it – mood swings, irritability, argumentativeness – are symptoms of that terror.

Looking back on it, my grandmother has been showing signs of dementia for many years now. This diagnosis comes at a time when she has already been struggling with this for more than a decade.

When I was growing up I lived directly around the corner from my grandmother. She would walk around and watch us when my parents needed her to. She was always there. Always available.

She used to drive us places. On one memorable occasion, she drove away from her apartment with my brother and I in the car and made a left hand turn onto Levick street. The problem with that is that Levick is a one-way street and this put us in opposition to the flow of traffic. I shouted at her that she was going the wrong way and she turned into a driveway as the light turned green at the nearest intersection and cars started streaming at us.

She assured me that she was just doing that to get to the alleyway as a sort of short cut. But I think she genuinely forgot that the road was only one way, despite having lived there for 10 years at that point.

Things have gotten far worse since then. As I said, her license was suspended not that long ago. She has had minor accidents and forgotten about them. She has gotten lost for hours driving to places that are less than 5 minutes away. When you talk to her, she tries to follow the conversation but gets confused easily. She calls me by my aunt’s and mother’s names frequently.

Watching my grandmother go through this process and watching my mother attempt to ensure her continued safety and health has been really difficult in a lot of ways. First, it has been really hard to see my grandmother degenerate like this. Her pain, fear, and confusion are almost palpable when you are in the room with her. I try to keep all of our conversations light and make her laugh, but there is only so much you can do sometimes. There is also an element of fear in watching her illness progress. In wondering what that process will be like if I ever go through it. The idea gives me chills.

But the hardest part of all of this has been watching my mother struggle with the systems – or lack thereof – put in place to deal with an aging relative who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association has been helpful in understanding what my grandmother has been going through. But the actual process of dealing with this has been a nightmare. From getting her license revoked to finding housing and resources and working on guardianship status for my mom, it’s all been really hard. And the entire time we have all been worried that, while this is all going on, Mommom will hurt herself or someone else in the process and it will all be for naught.

With this latest bump, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging has gotten involved, which is great. They have programs that will have someone come to the house and clean and cook for her or even run her to doctor’s appointments and such.

What really needs to happen is that she needs to go into a home. I know that she will be happier there. She spends so much time worrying about getting things accomplished in her little apartment. I know the anxiety gets to her.

When they went to take the car from her yesterday, my dad told her that they had to take it or the cops would impound it, which was a white lie in a lot of ways. But it worked. And afterward they installed her air conditioner and fixed her phone and her cable. She called mom later to thank her and mom said that she already sounds more relaxed, even relieved.

I genuinely believe that she could live a long and comfortable life in a home of some kind. If she keeps living on her own, she is going to worry herself into an early grave.

So cross your fingers for an opening in one of the homes where we have applications. I just want to see her happy and safe.

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