Dealing With Lasting Effects of Brain Trauma
Last updated: August 2022
Daddy's spiral into dementia wasn't a slow ride. It was a fast, loose, and off-the-rails tailspin. It wasn't a gradual decline. It was a roller coaster flying straight down with no brakes.
We didn't have time to prepare for the crash. We didn't even have time to secure our seat belts or buckle our helmets' chin straps. There was no time to dig our heels in and brace for impact. No one manned the controls with a finger hovering over an emergency stop button. What was done was done in an instant. All we could do at that point was to see what we could salvage from the twisted wreckage.
Prior medical history
In all fairness, Daddy didn't have a squeaky clean medical history. A lifetime of smoking and late-onset diabetes contributed to his many health issues. However, his cognitive ability remained intact and relatively unscathed through his heart attacks and a series of strokes. He had always bounced back relatively quickly and had always been able to have conversations with us about what had happened after the fact. He had always managed to stand up, dust himself off, and get back up on the horse, so to speak. He was always still himself after it was over.
Daddy's dementia came as a result of what I sometimes call "the big one." Daddy had a massive brain hemorrhage in the fall of 2015. He was on a blood thinner that exacerbated the event and made emergency surgery impossible.
It all happened so fast, but the effects didn't scamper away when it was over. He emerged from his hospital bed as a shell of the man we knew. His brain seemed like a circuit board that reworked itself on the fly and bypassed some important connections. He had physical deficits, but none that completely incapacitated him.
Dementia and brain trauma
He built strength back up physically. However, he had an extremely hard time communicating with us from that point forward. Words didn't come easily, and they often didn't seem to flow in any cohesive order. He didn't always call us by name, but he called me his daughter at times. He generally knew we were his kids.
At the lowest of lows, he was irritable, confused, and didn't know us at all. Thank goodness, those times were infrequent.
When he was fairly content, we learned to smile and nod a lot at his jumbled sentences, but we would never have conversations like we used to again. Conversations were casualties of the event, and replaying them from memory would be our only way of having rational back-and-forth exchanges ever again.
Even with all of the chaos of that year, I wouldn't trade that precious time. Sparse sparks of happiness and silliness did sneak in and pepper the darkness with tiny little lights.
Coping with the effects of brain trauma and dementia
I guess the best advice I could give about an aging parent is just about as old as time - hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Make as many happy memories as you can. We can encourage a healthy lifestyle with our parents. We can research and get the best medical advice we can find. We can consult trusted physicians. We have a plan.
We can do all of the right things, and something catastrophic could still happen. Tornadoes come every day and sweep up and squash all semblances of normalcy. Remain as calm and patient as you can in the storm. It won't be the same. It may not be as good, but you can rebuild it.
You can dust off what's left, make a fresh start, and find as much happiness as you can in the new normal. You can glue the pieces back even if a few are missing. As Leonard Cohen once wrote, "There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
Does caregiving change for you as the seasons change?
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