A while ago, my family had an “Aha!” moment. I was diagnosed with dementia.
“Oh, that just explains so much!” my daughter Jamie exclaimed. (As if putting paper towels in the fridge and leaving milk out all night is a bad thing.)
After my diagnosis, I had to make many adjustments to my lifestyle, and so did my family. They had to figure out who was babysitting me each day.
My body had to get used to taking a bevy of medications, and my family had to learn patience. That part we are still working on.
As I pondered all these things, I realized I had something to say about this situation, but I could not verbalize my thoughts. I did discover that I could actually write my thoughts and make cohesive sentences.
As my family and I struggle through this, my thoughts went to all of the families who are also dealing with this same situation. I was desperate to help, yet totally helpless as to how. It came to me. The five senses. Not the five senses you think of (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell), but the senses of learning how to cope with this disease.
The first sense we all need is the sense of BELONGING. We still need to feel like we are an intricate part of a unit. Give us tasks we can handle. If big things boggle our minds, give us a clothes basket and ask us to fold wash cloths. If we wad them up or mate them with socks, do not look at someone else in the room, cross your eyes and make a twirling motion by your temple. Most of us still know what that means. Simply say that we have done a good job and fix it later.
The second sense is SECURITY. Some of us are frightened to leave our familiar surroundings. We need to go out occasionally, but take us places we know – a neighborhood grocery store, a shopping center we have frequented, our favorite ice cream parlor. Be prepared. We will strike up conversations with strangers about Josephine the Plumber, Mr. Whipple, Crispy Critters, Madge the manicurist or why our favorite nickel candy bar now costs a buck and is one quarter the size.
The third sense is the sense of STRENGTH. Not for us, but for our caregivers. We need to be assured that when the time comes, and it will, that you will be strong enough to do the right thing. Seek help! If we are too much for you to handle, seek respite care, call in family members, put us in a nursing home. Do everything possible to maintain your sanity. Lord knows someone has got to be making good decisions, and it sure isn't going to be us.
The fourth sense is the sense of HOPE. Never count us out. Never give up on us. Find some way to assure us that there will be a tomorrow. Who knows what or who it will bring? As for the what, we need the promise of a better day; as for the who, it could be anyone. I have fantasies about becoming an astronaut, a famous writer and a scuba diver and turning into June Cleaver, my hero.
The fifth sense is the sense of LOVE. We will test you. We will have tantrums. We will have moments when we are impossible. We may say words that will shock you. Please remember, the mouth that is spewing those foul words is the same mouth that also said, “I love you.”
In conclusion, if you see me out and about with the usual dazed and confused look in my eyes, just gently pat my hand and say, “Hello, June. How is Ward? And how are those fine boys, Wally and the Beaver?”