Living with dementia
My father has dementia. This means he has trouble remembering things. He has also lost interest in things he used to enjoy. My family worried about him. He has needed more care as he gets older. He becomes especially restless at night. He now lives in residential aged care. I am happy he can now get the care he needs.
Posted by: Graham Clements, on 25/08/10
Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity) by Vincent van Gogh
My father’s dementia crept up on us. At first he had trouble remembering the names of people and places. He would even forget his birthplace. We often spent many hours searching for his spectacles and wallet. But we just put this down to aging.
He gradually lost interest in activities that he had previously enjoyed like walking, gardening and books. He even lost interest in watching sport. He also started wandering around at night. He started taking showers in the middle of the night. We also found him eating breakfast at 3am. He seemed to have no concept of the time of day.
Our concern grew
His memory worsened. He began to have trouble even naming objects like books. His favourite substitute word became “things”. Our concern grew. We decided to have him assessed by experts. He was diagnosed with low care dementia.
He also began to drink large quantities of water. My mother asked him why. He said he wanted to “get rid of the stuff”. The “stuff” turned out to be blood. We found blood all over the toilet one night. We took him to the hospital and he was diagnosed with a bladder tumour. While recovering from surgery in hospital, his behaviour became increasingly erratic. We were unsure if we could care for him but we could not find a bed in a nursing home.
Respite carers and nurses visited us for a few hours every week. They called him a “sundowner”. They meant he would become restless after the sun went down. We were given drugs to help him sleep. But he just seemed to fight them by shuffling around all night. We would guide him back into his room and put him to bed. Yet five minutes later he would be up and wandering around the house again. He fell over a number of times.
One night we woke to him shouting for help. We found him unable to get out of bed. An ambulance came and the paramedics decided to take him to hospital. A doctor said my father had a sore back and an infected urinary tract.
We told the doctor about my father’s behaviour. The doctor’s mother also had dementia. He thought that caring for someone with severe dementia required a team of at least four adults. He then arranged for a specialist team to talk to us and assess my father. They seemed shocked with what we had experienced. They decided my father should stay in hospital until a bed in residential aged care became available.
Some angst was caused when a psychiatrist told us that my father was probably suffering delirium from his urinary tract infection. She said that he might return to a low care state of dementia when drugs cured the delirium. She also said we were being over-anxious. But she had not experienced what we had. A few days later, another health professional officially assessed my father as a “high care” dementia patient.
We were very lucky that the hospital had its own residential aged care unit. A number of rooms became available in the high-care ward. We obtained the last room. Three days later my father was transferred. When his socks were removed, he was found to be wearing hospital gloves on his feet.
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