Joe Biden is prominent in the news lately, and for good reason. The 78-year-old politician has made history as being the first US presidential candidate from the dementia community. But what do people really know about dementia? What could we expect from our first person of dementia at the desk in the Oval Office?
You could of course look up the wikipedia article and find out it's "a broad category of brain diseases that cause a long-term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember that is severe enough to affect daily functioning." You may already have the correct notion that Alzheimer's disease is one of the (most common) dementias.
But we're not wikipedia or WebMD – and you should definitely always consult your doctor before taking any of our advice no matter how trivial. Let's instead explore dementia through heartwarming (and heartbreaking) tales related by nurses, family members, and cops.
The attic ghost
I was sent to a residence where an old woman was upset that the ghost that lived in the attic was listening to the music too loud. She wasn't upset about the ghost, just that his music was too loud. I had heard of other Officer's going there before and just talking with her and shrugging it off. When I got there, I met with her on the porch. She was a sweet little old lady who couldn't hear Wheel of Fortune or whatever was on TV because of the ghosts music. I didn't hear any music, but figured that since she did I ought to do something. She had one of those attics with the old school door you pull down that has stairs on it.
I pulled that down and crept up the stairs slowly, just in case there was a homeless person sleeping up there or something. When I finally got half my body up into the attic, I looked around and found no one or nothing. I asked her if she still heard the music and she said she did. Not knowing what else to do, I loudly said "This is the ****** Police Department, I am here on a noise complaint. The homeowner requests that you turn the music down as it is disturbing her."
I stood at the top of the stairs/door thing for a few, then looked back down at her. She stood there looking at me unchanged, then suddenly smiled. She said "oh thank you so much young man" and walked into her living room. I climbed down and closed the attic up, she turned her television on, smiled again and thanked me again.
We haven't been called back there since. I still stop in once in a while to see how she is though. She said that the ghost is much better now about his music, but still plays it loud from time to time, just not enough to warrant calling the Police.
I like my job, front row seat to the greatest show on Earth. (Not dementia, just humans in general).
Mass bear attack
One memorable night, a bunch of the ladies had gathered in the TV room to watch Lawrence Welk on PBS.
Afterward a documentary about bears had come on. I swear, every resident I put to bed that night was convinced there was bears in their rooms.
One lady, worried about bears getting inside, finally settled down after I told her that they lock the doors at night and bears don't know the code to get it. And if they did, they don't have thumbs to work the handle, nor do they know how to operate elevators.
He is losing his wife over and over again
I used to regularly be called to a house by a man who had lost his wife. He was suffering from dementia and so he would report her missing often after having gone out looking for her. She had died about 1 year before he started ringing and apparently dementia can be brought on by sudden loss.
So I would go and I would sit and ask him about his wife and what she looked like and where he had seen her and he would tell me all about her and what they had done that morning. Sometimes he would conclude himself that she was dead which was hard. Other times I would call his kids over who were adult and they would keep up the charade till he went to bed. He would forget the next day.
Never had the heart to tell him outright myself she was dead again. He would lose her all over again and it would be heart breaking. He died about a year ago (about 2 years after her) I always think of them together now.
Back to work
My grandfather has developed a pretty severe case of Alzheimer's over the past year. As of now, he still remembers everyone in the family and recognizes us most of the time, however, he needs assistance walking around and can no longer urinate or poop normally, needs to wear a diaper and uses a catheter.
Throughout his entire life he has been obsessed with safety and preparation for anything, always making sure that doors were locked and always carrying around a flashlight, which might have been the reason he became a firefighter.
A few months ago my aunt was staying with him to help my grandmother take care of him. Around 2 a.m. my aunt woke up and to her surprise couldn't find my grandpa anywhere in the house. In panic mode my aunt searched around the house and came to the discovery of an open garage door. One thing my grandfather always made sure of before he went to bed was that all the doors were locked and the garage was closed, he never forgot even with his mental state.
My aunt then proceeded to walk down the gravel road that led to my grandparents house, and found him outside walking in the street. Relieved that he was alright, she was shocked that he was able to walk that far without injury since he could barley walk a few steps without stumbling.
While bringing him back to the house, she asked my grandpa why he was out so late and walking outside. He replied that he was heading to the fire station to work, even though he had been retired from the force for around 15 years.
The sprinkler aliens
Recently had an old man (89) call and was convinced the aliens were talking to him through the fire sprinklers. Upon talking to management we found out his wife had died in the last couple of months, after 60-some years of marriage.
It was a sad deal... You could tell the loss of his lifelong partner had completely broken his mind.
Luckily the family was already involved and got him into a solid care facility.
Rewiring the planes
I was trying to get one of my dementia patients to go w/ me to his room for an assessment. He refused, stating he was busy rewiring an airplane. (He was an airplane mechanic in WWII.) So, I pulled up a chair and sat beside him, hoping he would be done with his "rewiring" shortly. He looked at me and said, "Don't just sit there. Get down there and pull the red wires". I squatted down and began "pulling wires". After a couple of minutes, he yelled at me, "Stupid woman! You've pulled the black wires!"
Same patient a week or so later: I arrived to see him and found out he was resting in his bed. I knocked and walked in his room, closing the door behind me. Me: "How do you feel today, Mr. Jack?" Him: "Like ****. All you do is come in here, close the door and talk. All this time and you still haven't put out"!
Another patient, a darling 90-something woman, always smiling and patting my hand while I do my charting. When I asked if I could get her anything before I left; she replied, "A new brain. I think mine is broken."
Dementia is very common in our elders and statistically you probably know – or knew – someone with dementia as well. What is your story? Let us know in the comments.