Dementia Diagnosis…Finally!

This post continues listing other unusual symptoms that didn’t blatantly say “DEMENTIA!!!” to my clueless mind. My kids and I continued to think that Denny was just making poor choices…

I thought I could leave him on his own…
I found out the hard way that Denny could no longer be left on his own. I took a trip in January of 2020 to Louisiana see daughter Emma. My son Byron flew with me to visit his sister. It was wonderful finally seeing where Emma lived, meeting the people she was always talking about. I was even allowed to sit up in a church loft while she played her cello for a wedding. It was beautiful!

But I left Denny at home as well as our little dog Grover, not thinking it was a big deal. I made some meals for Denny, which I placed in the refrigerator with notes on how to reheat. I left a reminder of what to feed Grover and when. A neighbor friend of mine even took Denny a meal and put it on the front porch. I was only gone for two or three days, as I recall.

But while I was gone, Denny called me to ask about the medicines he needed to take. He always took the same few medicines for his COPD, which were always placed on a little glass shelf by the kitchen window. Denny came up from his basement refuge daily to take the medicines at particular times and didn’t need my help with that project…while I was home, anyway! So it was odd that he was calling about the medicines. I referred him to the little shelf, reminding him of his daily habit for the last how many months and years! But he sounded really confused. So I asked him if he could take a picture of the medicines with his phone, send it to me, and then I could explain what he needed to take. He figured out how to send such a picture to my phone. But he had not taken a picture of the little meds on the glass kitchen shelf. Instead, he had ransacked through the kitchen cupboards and retrieved all of the medicine bottles–medicines he had taken in the past for times when he had been ill. He lined them all up on the counter. Oh my gosh! My heart was beating fast. I called him back and said, “Those are medicines from the past, when you had some other thing going on. You aren’t to take those.” I told him where the medicines were that he needed. But my adrenaline was rushing. “ALERT!! ALERT!!” Something was way out of whack!

When I came home, I made my way up our front sidewalk, encountering rolled-up newspapers left in a dump in front of the porch. Denny hadn’t retrieved them, which was WEIRD! Denny loved looking through the paper each morning and knew to go out the front door to retrieve them. But since I was gone, he must have been too afraid to leave the house?!!! In addition to the papers being there, my neighbor’s dish of food was still there as well. He never went out to retrieve her meal. My adrenaline alert returned in force.

As I rather anxiously made my way into the house, I called out for our little dog Grover — who ended up being all the way back in our laundry room in a MESS. Denny obviously did not let him out to go potty. At least Grover knew to “go” on the hard tile of the laundry room instead of on the carpeted dining and living rooms. Poor little doggie! And there was no water in Grover’s water bowl. He drank it all up, and Denny never replaced the water in spite of my reminders.

I was shaken up…and so was Grover…and so was Denny. No more leaving them alone!!!! I was kicking myself for taking the trip.

Somatic Symptom Disorder??
During that fun trip to Louisiana (though bad RETURN from Louisiana), I remember my kids and I talking about how strange Denny’s behaviors were. We had all been googling on our phones and computers to see if we could make sense of what was going on. One disorder that made huge sense to us all was “Somatic Symptom Disorder”. Printing off what I had found online, I decided to take it in to show Denny’s Family Nurse Practitioner. She read through it and said, Wow! Sounds just like him! But she would need to refer him to a specialist to make that diagnosis. Instead, she announced she was retiring and would need to refer us to a different doctor who could then initiate other referrals. Long story short, when we ended up with the geriatric doctor in Laramie: Denny was evaluated. Denny had Dementia–not Somatic Symptom Disorder! Duh! I included this paragraph to advise you not to diagnose weird behaviors, but to go to professionals sooner than later! It seems so obvious now, but honest–it did not seem obvious while we were in the midst of it. We were oblivious..

Stopped Dental Care
Denny always made his own dental cleaning appointments. He was reliable responding to the dentist’s secretary and scheduling himself, since she always called him on his cell phone. He also continually added “new toothbrush” to our grocery list, so I figured he was brushing like crazy. Therefore, I didn’t have dental care on my radar! But somewhere in our saga, Denny stopped making the appointments. And Denny’s teeth started having major problems! He even lost a front tooth and was so proud of it. He loved to smile and gross me out with his missing tooth. He thought it was so funny. We had to go to a dental surgeon to deal with at least one of his resulting dental issues. Then we had to make a decision as to whether or not to have all his teeth pulled and fake teeth made for him. Ouch. That was something we ended up doing with my DAD in Laramie. My sisters and I took him to my wonderful dentist Brad Walgren [on Garfield Street] who did an excellent job. Daddy boasted a winning smile for about 7 years until he died, thanks to Walgren’s kind expertise and artistry. My sisters and I were so we were so glad we invested in Daddy’s smile.

But Denny was a totally different case. He was extremely anxious about the dental chair, about STAYING in the dental chair when he wanted to be in his comfort bathroom! All the hours he would need to spend in a dental chair while the dentist worked up what was needed and did the fittings, was not something I could envision Denny being able to navigate. And Denny did NOT want to do that. He was ADAMANT that we NOT go down that road. I was trying to figure out what to do about that one day as I was driving around Laramie. All of the sudden, I just KNEW. I immediately changed the course of my vehicle and drove straight to the dentist’s office, who even kindly met with me briefly on such short notice. He was so understanding, knowing Denny’s new temperament, understanding my dilemma. Therefore, we opted for quick fixes for the moment, allowing for a change of direction if needed.

Denny kept putting “toothbrush” on the grocery list, so I still stupidly thought he was trying to brush his teeth. What was almost funny–when we finally DID move out of the house to get him in nursing care down in Colorado Springs–was what I found in his cupboards in his downstairs kitchen area. One whole cupboard was filled with toothbrushes – still in the packaging! Denny knew he needed to brush his teeth, so ordered the toothbrushes, but didn’t seem to know to use them! SO MANY TOOTHBRUSHES!!! We had a whole table for them in our garage sale, since they were all unopened. Some lucky soul took them all and is ready for a lifetime of clean teeth.

Escalating problems, purchases, and a need for POA
I notice, looking back in my calendars and bank statements, that more appointments were being made with our nurse practitioner to see what was going on in 2020… in addition to more appointments being made with the plumbers to fix water issues in Denny’s bathroom…and in addition to SO MANY Amazon purchases continuing into the year 2021. Denny was going wild with online ordering and kept overdrawing his bank account.

Therefore, the next step had to be arranging for a Power of Attorney. That difficult but necessary step came after our new geriatric doctor had diagnosed dementia in November of 2021. By January 2022, I hired a lawyer to come to our house so that Denny didn’t have to go OUT of our house. I still see Denny sitting at our dining room table, signing over his privileges to me. My daughter Emma was with us to witness everything and to console her daddy. That was a hard day. And it ended up a hard WEEK, since I had to subsequently close Denny’s access to bank accounts and credit cards. I felt so mean. But my sweet dementia support group told me this was a vital step. One of the members took me aside to tell me that he knew of other families’ finances that had been RUINED by such a one as a Denny with dementia, when they were allowed to continue their use of credit cards and computers.

Foot Problems
Denny always had trouble with ingrown toenails, so I started worrying about his toes. He would not be able to lean over to deal with them, and they were scary for such a one as me to attack. So I hired the Snowy Range Foot Nurse to come do her magic. She and her assistant came into our sitting room, where I had Denny resting in a recliner. I had placed some benches for them and brought up lots of towels and pans of water. Denny was not happy about this event. I had to stand by him to physically keep him in the chair, continuing to remind him that these sweet ladies were HELPING him, not trying to HURT him. Gosh, he was upset. I felt like a mean momma! But Lorraine Klein and her sweet assistant persevered, understanding dementia and the need to keep Denny’s feet in good shape so that he could walk around pain-free. These saintly ladies did their work well and as fast as possible. But this was a very difficult project to complete due to Denny’s attitude and temperament at the time. In retrospect, I wish I would have asked our doctor for some kind of pill to relax him…and subsequently make the foot nurses’ job easier! I would recommend such assistance to anyone else who thinks they might have a cranky patient on hand!

Bed sores…and me, the meanie
Because Denny was spending so much time on the toilet, he developed sores on his buttocks/legs. I figured that out when I was changing his bed sheets and finding fresh blood stains. He wouldn’t let me look at his sores, so I made a doctor’s appointment for him and took him in person. Our geriatric doctor was a rather attractive female, and he did not want to show HER either, understandably! I told him I would leave the room, but it was vital that he let the doctor see what shape he was in so that she could make plans to heal him up. As a result of the appointment, she gave me a barrier cream to apply for him. Denny only let me apply that once or twice, then said he would do it himself; but I was seeing a worsening of the bedsheet problems. I knew I would need to hire Home Health to start coming in to deal with his issues. But Denny was livid at even the suggestion that we would have strangers come in to help him. I was wondering how I was going to proceed on that volatile subject, when I guess I would say it was a blessing in disguise when he fell out of our waterbed and broke his leg. That event put him right into the hospital where the doctors and nurses could deal with ALL of his problems. And I wasn’t the meanie anymore!!!!

Coming up:
Remember the post, “Water, Water Everywhere!”? Well, the next posts will have similar titles:
– “Oxygen Tubing Everywhere!”
– “Wires, Wires Everywhere!”
– “Mice, Mice…Not Everywhere, but might as well have been…”
– Then, we will have a little post on our little doggie Grover and his dementia

3 thoughts on “Dementia Diagnosis…Finally!”

  1. So heartbreaking that you had to deal with all of this (especially while working). You make yourself out to be unkind and mean, but I think maybe looking back has negatively colored some of what went on. I think even the most saintly people occasionally lose patience and it sure seems that you did the best you could at the time knowing what you knew then. I wish you could be a little more gentle with yourself as you heal. If dementia were easy to recognize, no one would have to contend with what you did, yet your stories resonate with everyone who has been through this.

    1. Oh, gosh, Donna – doesn’t look like I responded to your comment. So sorry! Thank you for your generous words. I hope to work toward being “more gentle” with myself, but I also find it helpful to portray honestly how I felt. It’s rather cathartic actually. But I do want to be gentler with myself…and am having trouble with that, since I still need to do a post on my “Cruella” streak! I may quote you in that forthcoming post and try to work through what you recommend as I’m writing it. How does that sound?

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