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Dementia: The Diagnosis

He started forgetting words and struggling with sentences. We were told this might happen after the ‘mini stroke,’ we were told not to worry. Conversations with him became a lot more difficult. On bad days, it really tested our patience. He stopped talking for the most part. Maybe he was too frustrated at not remembering words. Maybe he was embarrassed that he was losing the ability to speak properly.

Then he started forgetting where things were supposed to be put. My Mum called one day and said that she had found the phone in the fridge. He was putting dirty plates back in the cupboards. My Mum was confused and annoyed, was he just doing this to wind her up? Their relationship had always been a bit messy, him being 29 years older and a former criminal. His paranoia had been bad for as long as I could remember leading to odd behaviours. I told her not to worry.

Then the bigger things came. I was talking about my wedding planning when I visited one day. Upon leaving, he asked ‘when did Nikita get engaged?’ It was as if he had no idea that my partner had told him about it, that he had seen the ring and cried when congratulating me. We started to worry. The doctors told us it was just old age.

The childish behaviour started, the sudden declaration that my Irish Dad no longer ate potatoes. Apparently, he claimed that he had never liked them. My Mum could not enter a room without him insulting her. He had tantrums and threw things on the floor. The doctors did a very basic memory test and said they didn’t think anything was wrong.

But, it kept getting worse. The only time he would seem happy was when my baby niece was around. His words did not need to make sense to her, it was easier than trying to have conversations with adults. I bought him some old Irish CD’s, music was meant to help memory. He used to sing along to Irish songs all the time, much to mine and my sister’s embarrassment. He listened to the CD’s once and never again.

Eventually, the doctors seemed to listen and referred him to a specialist. They diagnosed him with vascular dementia. We’d had our suspicions but it was so much more scary and real when we had it in writing. They said it was likely to be caused by several mini strokes. How did we not notice them? The doctors told us that sometimes they have no immediate effect and go undetected.

There is no treatment for vascular dementia, no medication to slow the process down. He’s seen a speech therapist and is on a waiting list for some cognitive therapy. He has started telling more and more stories about the past, as though he is afraid he might lose them. We have no idea what will happen next. We are staring into a dark and uncertain future. Our biggest fear is that he will forget who we are. We have seen the decline and are terrified of how fast it might continue.

My Dad has dementia and I have no idea how to process it.

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