Dementia, Diabetes, Hydrocephalus - Oh My!

Oh, if only we got to deal with one firestorm at a time, but disasters seem to come in 3s. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Alzheimer's disease is enough, thank you very much. It is a life-altering diagnosis for anyone, and anyone within the family and friend circle.

Dad had diabetes for decades. His was a type 1 diabetic and a type-A doctor, meaning he was very disciplined. He would check his blood sugar several times a day and kept a detailed journal of his blood sugars - all the dates, numbers and the amount of insulin he took.

As the dementia of Alzheimer's disease took hold of dad, mom took over his care. I even helped. I could prick his finger, and hold the test strip in the meter to his finger and read the results.

Learning dad's diabetes

At a young age, I learned when dad's blood sugar was low, he needed something sweet. When it was really low, he needed an emergency injection.

It was a little harder to tell when dad's sugar was low as his other diseases progressed. It used to be his speech would slur, he would be unsteady on his feet, or he would get cold and clammy. The dementia would affect his speech and his gait. He also had normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). That affected everything.

When dad's blood sugar was high, he would pee a lot more. When he was wearing pull-ups as his dementia and NPH progressed, that was hard to gauge. Checking his blood sugar was a sort of "canary in the coal mine."

If his sugar was low, it explained a lot. If it was high, he could have gotten into the sweets, had a UTI, or some other infection. Since he was less able to communicate what he was feeling, those numbers could tell the story.

The last few days before he died, dad's meter just read "HIGH." It may have just been "HI," which is not as friendly as it sounds. I wasn't there. Mom was in contact with his doctor. They lived out in the country back then. That little meter greeting initiated a call for an ambulance. Dad had a kidney infection. He didn't come back from it.

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Managing other health issues in addition to Alzheimer's

When there is a host of things wrong, it seems like a mad dash to the finish line, and you don't know which one will get there first. You can't just let any of them go unattended. It is not just a matter of squeaky wheels getting the grease. All health issues squeak. It can be a delicate balance.

You start having that conversation with your loved one's doctors. Are the risks worth the benefits? Quality of life versus prolonged life versus their capacity to grasp any of it. That is not a comfortable conversation, but a necessary one. Theories will be practice before we want them to be. There are forms to fill out. Doctors will want to know what the wishes are, and wishing someone else to do it is not an option.

So, we do our best, monitoring everything the best we can. We are thankful for our doctors and other health care providers, our care circle, to keep our loved one fit, inside and out, and comfy for as long as possible and to give us wise counsel. Love must be tough and flexible to keep those balls in the air!

How do you manage when there are other health issues to consider and monitor?

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