Memory loss is something we often associate with old age, but what happens when it’s one of your parents dealing with a crippling memory-loss disease? Read this story about how one young person learnt to accept her dad’s illness.
‘That's so demented’ is one of those meaningless comments you hear in the playground, right? I thought so, until recently. I figured that 'demented' was just another way of calling someone ‘stupid’ or ‘silly’. But now the word has taken on an entirely different meaning for me. My dad has dementia. It's a disease that’s affecting his memory, and as it progresses it will affect other functions, such as his reasoning and decision making, how he perceives the world, how he speaks, and how he acts.
His memory has been deteriorating gradually as he’s gotten older. But it just seemed like typical behaviour from the boys in my family, who were always forgetful and vague. He would forget what Mum had asked him to do. She'd send him to the shops to buy milk, only to find later that he’d bought bread instead because he couldn't remember what he was supposed to buy.
Gradually, it’s become worse. He now finds it hard to name things, so he refers to everything in general terms. He'll start telling his friends about what I'm doing at uni, only to trail off because he can't remember exactly what I’m doing. It's easy to get angry at him for forgetting, especially when some of the things he forgets are about my life or are things that are important to me. It's frustrating, but I need to remember it's not his fault. Yelling at him or getting angry isn’t going to help him or me. I've learnt to be very patient – to explain things clearly, sometimes multiple times. Sometimes I have to write him notes to help him remember.
I've found it helps to think of how he must feel. It would be scary to realise you can't remember things like where you’re going, or the name of the suburb where your daughter lives. The reality is that he isn’t going to get better. It's quite likely that he’ll get worse. Eventually, he may need care.
I've started to talk more to friends of mine whose grandparents had dementia about what they went through. They seem to understand what it's like. Mum's decided to join a support group for partners, children, grandchildren and friends who care for people with illnesses like dementia. It's great to talk to people who know what we’re going through, people who know how frustrating this illness is, not just for those who have it, but also for those around them.