Surviving Dementia

After my grandmother died, my grandfather's behavior became alarming.  Over time, it became clear that he was developing a neuro cognitive disorder, dementia.  This is the story of how we helped keep him safe from the people that would take advantage of him.

My grandparents had always been together.  Theirs was the first home I remember.  When times got rough, they were the shelter for my brother and I.  It was always them as a unit and never two separate people. He was a handyman at the local hospital, and he spent weekends doing the same around his own home: painting siding, replacing the sprinklers, and installing cabinets on every wall that could hold them.  My grandfather was always fixing something, and the rest of them time he was taking care of my grandmother.  Heart damage from a bout with scarlet fever in her youth meant she had to have a slew of surgeries as she got older.  She lived an astounding fifteen years after a heart transplant, and my grandfather was there to ensure they could get to any treatment in comfort and style.  In 2014, my grandmother was taken by a stroke. We are unsure if her passing shook my grandfather, or if what followed was entirely due to his emerging illness.  But her passing marked the start of a downward spiral that lead to his abuse.

Over the next five years, my grandfather fought to maintain his independence as best he could.  The illness he was eventually diagnosed with was vascular dementia, and he is able to live a better life because we finally wrested control from it.  What follows are a series of articles from his family's perspective of what we saw during his decline and abuse.  During this journey, he had the full support of his family, friends, and doctors.  He had a home that he owned. And he had no history of comporting with the cast of characters to follow.  We ask ourselves every day if there was something different we could have done to prevent the trouble that followed.  We hope that these experiences will be instructive to those walking this same path with their own relatives.
As you read these stories of my grandfather and the people that would harm him, please know how much we looked up to him and continue to admire everything he accomplished.  My family and the people he touched with his kindness and generosity could never fault him for what happened.  He was a victim of a terrible disease and the people that took advantage of it.  As long as he's with us, we will continue to fight for his safety and happiness.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of demetia or signs of elder abuse, I urge you to seek help from the healthcare workers, caregivers, and social workers for advice on treating the disease and staying safe in these difficult circumstances.  Your first start may be your local Alzeimers Association.  A book that helped me understand dementia was The 36 Hour Day.  It continues to be updated with the latest in research, treatment and aide for those suffering from dementia and their caregivers.

On a sobering note: The law will be little use to you unless you are prepared.  The best thing to have is a Medical and Durable Power of Attorney to act in their stead once they can no longer do so.  A clear action plan for elder care, including long-term care insurance, can also be arranged well in advance of symptoms.  Talk through these with your elders and wider family now. before the issues arise.  If there are overt crimes being committed against your loved ones, seek the help of Elder Abuse detectives in your local jurisdiction.  However, police are often little help even if you think a crime is being committed.  Instead, prepare with your loved ones to yield control of assets should they become unrealiable or under the sway of an abuser. Trigger these conditions based on a trusted set of family or friends. Get the advice of a competent estate attorney for help preparing your loved ones for this eventuality and have them explain in fine detail how to take charge when the need arises.

I hope every day for research breakthroughs helping us understand this condition. I also hope for new treatments to ease the trouble experienced by those afflicted with dementia.  If you have the means, consider a gift or endowment to medical research organizations studying dementia and Alzheimer's Disease such as the Cleveland Clinic.