My in laws are in their nineties and in pretty good health considering their age. They both have suffered from temporary dementia episodes in the past ten years. On one occasion, my mother-in-law’s descent into childhood prompted her husband to put her into a nursing home. Then he called his kids.
I could hear the worry and concern in his voice and I share it as he told us the situation. He’d woken up early and found his wife in the bathroom acting like a child and unable to recognize him. He was worried that she’d hurt herself and he wouldn’t be able to help so he placed her in a nursing home. Then his wife started complaining that they were tying her down at night because she kept waking up not knowing where she was and wandering the halls. When he asked about what was wrong, he was told that “she was suffering from dementia and that happens when you get old and there wasn’t anything they could do about it.” He decided the nursing home staff were wrong and we concurred. He set up an appointment with the Mayo clinic and took her there and had a complete evaluation. Then they reduced the number of medications she was taking to about 4 with one of them being a drug for tiny epileptic seizures. Her ability to remember and think improved and she was returned home. She continued to have wandering attention but not the complete loss of identity as before. When she had a pacemaker installed her mental state has been really sharp.
Although there are diseases like Alzheimer’s disease where dementia is irreversible, there are many health problems that can cause temporary dementia. The first time my father-in-law noticed the problem with his wife, she suffered from a urinary tract infection. Changes in medications and medication interaction can cause temporary dementia. My father-in-law suffers from emphysema and when he needs oxygen, just before his nap, he often is forgetful or unable to pay attention. If a loved one shows signs of dementia consult a doctor. My dad suffered dementia during his last years before his death, one time he hadn’t eaten for several days and was dehydrated and not able to focus and another time his mental state improved with depression medicine.
Here’s the lessons I’ve learned about Temporary Dementia:
1) Have your doctor check the patient’s medications
2) Check for and manage urinary tract infections
3) Potassium levels may require IVs
4) Get a second or third opinion if the patient’s mental state changed abruptly
5) Depression plays a role in mental alertness
6) Oxygen helps
7) Blood pressure and heart rate can also play a role.
Although dementia can appear scary when encountered in someone you love, medical care can determine if the condition is long term, short term and can treat it effectively. Don’t give up even though you feel entirely helpless in the face of aging. Being a support system, helping your loved ones explain and remember their situation can improve the quality of their remaining years.
In case your experience with dementia is more permanent, check out some of the links in my link section.