A doctor is speaking to a woman and an older man in a wheelchair about his dementia diagnosis. The woman is worried, with her hand the mans arm.

A Whirlwind Diagnosis of Dementia

The fall of 2015 was turbulent at best. My dad had a brain hemorrhage, a week-long hospital stay, and was left with some lasting effects. We were all swept up in a whirlwind of hospital bills, insurance claims, emotions, and doctor visits.

Fast forward a little through the tornado, and we had run out of his insurance’s allotted “rehab time” at a facility where Daddy was placed. We could either come up with several thousands of dollars a month, which none of us had, to keep him there, or figure something else out.

The “something else” was my saint of an aunt who had offered her help all along. To say that she was a God-send at that time would be a drastic understatement of what she did. Moving him there was an amazing experience. He was surrounded by our family on the day he came home. She doted on him around the clock. She was a wonderful caregiver to him for his stay there.

Frustrations with moving my dad to another home

Moving him to another town didn’t come without its own problems, however. We had to find another doctor. He needed a primary care physician for check-ups and medication refills, etc. That sounds easy enough, right? No. It’s not. He didn’t move to a bustling metropolis. There weren’t yellow pages full of doctors looking to take on new patients. Phone call after phone call was fruitless. I heard, “The doctor isn’t taking new patients,” or, “We aren’t taking any more patients on Medicare,” so many times I can’t begin to count.

I did finally find someone to take his case. After an excruciatingly long waiting room visit, we arrived in her office. She was kind and thorough. She gave us the necessary paperwork for us to get a handicap placard for the mirror of our new-used van with a wheelchair lift. She refilled his medications.

The doctor had gone through all of his records and paperwork and hurled a word at us that I wasn’t expecting - "dementia". At the word "dementia" I felt like Dorothy’s spiraling house we had been riding in landed with a sharp thud on a witch we didn’t know in a place we didn’t understand. You know the part. Upon the abrupt landing in Oz, all Dorothy could mutter was, “Oh!”

Surprised at the diagnosis of dementia

I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, but I was. We had heard a million medical terms over the previous few months, but that wasn’t one of them. Maybe I was hoping for something closer to a full recovery for him. Maybe it was denial. Maybe I was just counting on his circuits to fire back up and for him to bounce back as he had always done. I just wasn’t expecting the weight of that one word. That one word made it feel like the unfamiliar ground we had finally landed on just fell out from under us.

Merriam-Webster defines the curse word in question as follows:  de·​men·​tia | \ di-ˈmen(t)-shə  , -shē-ə \ : a usually progressive condition (such as Alzheimer's disease) marked by the development of multiple cognitive deficits (such as memory impairment, aphasia, and the inability to plan and initiate complex behavior).

I think maybe that “progressive” part is what got me. Knowing that things would likely not get better, and would likely get worse was a tough pill to swallow. It felt harder to swallow than the fist full we prepared for him daily.

Looking for the silver linings with dementia

Now, as dire as all of that sounds, I am all about silver linings. We had those too. At that point, we knew where we stood on that crazy map of where we’d been. We could see the path that laid before us a little clearer after that point.

I wouldn’t say Daddy had any great improvements from that point forward as far as language or cognitive ability. I would say, however, that everyone adjusted and adapted, including him. His happiness and general contentment became priority #1. It took us a while to get there, but we did.

What’s any great journey without a winding dirt road or two anyway?

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