Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dementia: Fascinating and Terrifying

Click to view larger

This is my neighbor, Ken.  We've lived next door to each other for a little bit over a year now and we have small talk conversations from time to time.  Yet, each time Ken sees me walk into the house he is extremely confused because he can't figure out why this young guy is going into the old people's house next door.  I watch him through the window after I've walked in and he'll stare for a bit with a perplexed look, and then go about his business.  You see, Ken has dementia and it fascinates me and terrifies me at the same time.

I first noticed something wasn't quite right the first time I had a conversation with him shortly after moving in.   After about 90 seconds the conversation started over from the beginning and continued this way for at least 4 cycles before I moved on.   Subsequently I noticed he checks the mail an inordinate amount of times during the day, including Sundays.  These were harmless little daily routine quirks, but the scary part of his condition came to full light the night he banged on our door in a panic.

When I first heard it, I thought it was the mormons again, so I  discreetly poked my head around the corner to see.  As I was doing this, Ken began turning the knob and eventually cracked the door open and he was clearly in an agitated state, as was I.  When I approached him he asked me where the "old people" were (his former neighbors were in their 80's and that's what he could remember).  I didn't try to explain, but asked him what the problem was and how could I help.  He told me his house had been robbed and they had taken everything.  I was fairly certain this wasn't the case, but thought I should check the house so he would calm down.  I quickly called his family, who had given me their contact information, then went over to his house.

I could tell right away that nothing had been taken.  He was adamant about his TV being stolen, but it was clearly in its place.  He remarked that they must have taken it and replaced it with another, which really struck a chord with me about the confusion he must feel.  We were able to calm him down and I called his family to let them know everything seemed fine.

There hasn't been another incident.   I still see Ken every night out in front of the house sitting in his chair.  We still say hello and it's like he's meeting a new person every time.  His caretaker tells me his condition is worsening.   She estimates that he forgot who I was in the 60 seconds that passed  between me asking to take his photo and retrieving my gear.   I think about him a lot and what his life must be like at this point.  I'm fascinated by how the world appears to him and the brain function (or lack thereof).  Everything is new all the time.  His caretaker tells me he eats ice cream often, and then asks to eat ice cream 5 minutes after they're done.   Imagine if every sensation, every experience you ever had was like the first time.  That seems magical to me on the one hand, and yet it seems terrifying to have no anchor, no point of reference for what is going on around you, to feel like you haven't seen anybody in years, when they actually left only minutes ago.   And every time I go into a room and forget what I went there for, I have to decide if Ken's condition is terrifying or not.  I'm leaning towards yes.

No comments:

Post a Comment