My mother is dead, and yet, she is still alive! She has the disease, Senile Dementia!
I have the misfortune of being able to study at a close range what happens to a person who suffer from senile dementia. And I also know how the relatives and family feel when this illness strike a family member.
There are many different kinds of senile dementia, but this isn’t an article about the medical issues of the illness. This article is about the transformation of the person who has the illness and how it affect people around that person.
My mother is suffering from senile dementia which slowly closes down her mental ability. It has now gone two years since we for the first time understood that there was something wrong with her mind. But now when I look back, I suspect that the illness had begun longer back than that.
My mother has always been a strong and stubborn woman. Since her life has been rather difficult she can’t be described as a happy and cheerful person. That is probably why I didn’t recognize her first depression until it had developed into a psychosis. At that time she heard voices in her head and she didn’t trust any member in the family. We couldn’t get her to go to hospital voluntary, and therefore she had to be forced to hospital with the aid of two strong policemen. That was the first horrible moment and it was also totally inconceivably. I couldn't believe that I had to do this to my mother who I respect so much.
From that point she has not recovered fully, instead, in small, small steps her mind has changed completely and she is now a totally different person mentally, but she still looks the same on the outside. That is the scary part. She looks the same, but her eyes have changed and keep on changing. The person I know as my mother isn't there anymore. Instead, another person has taken her place and it is a person that I have no relation with and I can not reach her anymore. During some periods she is angry and she can also get pretty violent, and I can also see in her eyes that she is very suspicious towards me and that she doesn’t know me nor trust me. Other periods her eyes are more or less dead and she is lost in her own mind with something that goes on in her head. Other times she is happy and just smiles all the time. I don’t know what to say about the constant smiling either, because it is rather far away from her personality as well.
Now she is living in her home supervised and with the help of her present husband. He looks after her and does a great job, and for this I am very grateful. My mother loves her home and her garden and it is wonderful that she can live at home even if it means that she has to take medications. Without medications she would be to much for her husband to cope with. She can manage some minor practical things but not much. But at least now I think that she has come to a point where she doesn’t know that there is something wrong with her. And I guess that is why she now is smiling constantly.
One of the worst things about this disease is that you don’t get the chance to say goodbye. Because you don’t know when that last moment is! In the beginning the changes in the brain are small and it is hard to know when she is “there” or when she is not. Afterwards, I can remember the last moment that I felt she was present, when she behaved like before, and I could talk to her. That is the last time I felt my mother was here. That moment is a very special memory to me. The clear moments are still there now and then, and sometimes her old self is flickering by, but you can’t be sure and you never know what’s going on in her head.
Every time I see her there is as one more bulb has gone out in her mind. And yet, she is still there, her body is working, she walk and move in the same way as before. I will never get used to this, I still think it is scary, she is here and at the same time she is not! My mother as I know her is gone for more than two years now, and yet I can’t grieve her properly, since she is still here. It is like an extended goodbye, and still it is too late to say goodbye! This is an illness that is very difficult for the relatives and I am not proud of it, but sometimes I wish it will end, for all our sakes.
I try to remember her like she was, when she still was my mother who always showed her love for her children and grandchildren. Now, I don't know if she still recognizes us, but her feelings are gone. She look at her grandchildren with an empty stare and that is so far from her personality as it could.
So I grieve for her a little bit at a time and comfort myself by thinking that she at least seem to be quite happy in her own world just now.
Make sure to tell your parents that you love them as often as you can! You will never know if you get another chance.