symptoms

Dementia - When Questions Repeat

Joseph Community Member November 18, 2009
  • My mother had lived alone for ten years after the death of my father in 1999.  She moved from the family home into a condominium and gradually socialized, making 4 or 5 new neighbor friends.  She would visit with them and chat on the telephone to pass the time.  Between them and her brother and sister, she was well socialized and generally happy with her life.  Toward the end of the decade, things were changing.  Her brother had passed away from Alzheimer's disease after a significant struggle with it, and her younger sister had been diagnosed with it.  She remained healthy until stricken by a mild stroke in October of 2007.

     

    The stroke didn't seem to have a great affect on her except for two conspicuous changes.  She had developed a small droop in the corner of her mouth, appearing to be a smirk, toward the left side of her face, and she tired very quickly every afternoon.  These things seemed "fortunate", because strokes can cause a number of serious disabilities.  In the year following the stroke, her life continued without any significant noticeable changes.  At least, that was my perception.  Her neighbors probably noticed a few things, but attributed it to her advancing age and normal forgetfulness. 

     

    In January of 2009, my mother had a serious injury accident.  She had lost her balance while stepping out of her shower and fallen over backwards.  The result was a fractured L2 vertebra, which went undiscovered at the hospital emergency room until a relapse occurred 18 days later.  She was sent home to recover with bed rest and pain medication.  I moved in to her spare bedroom and took care of her over what was expected initially, to be a three or four week recovery.  It was much longer.  This is where the story begins.

     

    As I was taking care of mom, we had many conversations while doing her physical therapy exercises, having meals, and watching television together.  Except for the back pain, she seemed to be fine in every way, except for one.  She would ask me a question about something and I would answer her.  I noticed that she started to ask the same question a short time later.  In the days that followed, I observed that I was being asked a question, sometimes as often as three or four times an hour.  It was always the same question, followed by my same answer. 

     

    At first, I just joked with her about her absent mindedness, never thinking that anything was wrong.  She laughed about it, blaming it on her old age, since she was 88.  It became apparent that something might be wrong after having spent a few weeks together.  I decided to discuss it with mom as a serious matter.  She looked me straight in the eye and said "I suppose that you think I have Alzheimer's."  I replied that I didn't think that, but was concerned about her repeating questions and her newest issue of repeating normal comments to me, also.  She was getting a little irritated by my concerns.  Her sister had passed away from Alzheimer's disease about three months earlier, and I believe that she was very afraid that she might be next.

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    Since my mom had visiting nurses through her healthcare plan, I was able to convey my concerns to them when they visited her for the back injury follow-ups.  Soon, we had an appointment with mom's doctor.  The doctor recommended a memory test and I took mom to the appointment.  She struggled with several of the memory questions and I knew that this had to be bad news.  The doctor reviewed the report and suggested that the problem could be caused by a thyroid hormone imbalance.  If this turned out to be true, it would have been very good news and she would have made a full recovery from the memory difficulties, eventually.

     

    Despite attempts to reverse the memory problems with medication adjustments, change was not to come.  The problem escalated and a trip to a neurologist was ordered.  A diagnosis of "Unspecified Dementia" was the result, due to the CT scan revealing some atrophy of the brain.  Perhaps we were seeing Vascular Dementia related to her stroke or early signs of Alzheimer's disease.  Another comparison CT scan would tell us more in the months ahead.  Sadly, this could be both types of dementia together.  That would be immensely unfair.

     

    Anyone observing the behavior of repeating questions or frequently restating the same remarks, in a friend or loved one, should be alert to the possibility of dementia.  Some forms of dementia are reversible and treatment should be sought as soon as possible.  If the result is a diagnosis of dementia, early treatment can improve the quality of life for that person.  If the dementia is not reversible, there will be many progressive stages of change and many challenges ahead.  It is a heartrending journey for all concerned. 

     

    My mother is now in the latter stages of the illness and her world is fraught with delusion and misunderstanding.  Each new day brings bouts of frustration, confusion, anxiety, tension, hallucination, incontinence, paranoia, false beliefs, agitation, anger, and depression.  We've come this far in as little as ten months.  The rate of progression varies among individuals.  Her body remains strong despite the progression of the illness in her brain.  In the final stages of dementia, the body will begin to fail as brain function falters.  It will be a very solemn and saddening thing to witness.      

     

     

     

9 Comments
  • Carol Bradley Bursack
    Health Guide
    Nov. 18, 2009

    Hi Joseph,

    This is interesting on several levels. It seems that a major trauma can tip an elder toward the dementia stage. And of course, this takes us by surprise, as they seemed mentally fine before. You were fortunate to have visiting nurses to talk with and you obviously did the right thing in getting your mother diagnosed. It's hard to absorb the truth,...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    Hi Joseph,

    This is interesting on several levels. It seems that a major trauma can tip an elder toward the dementia stage. And of course, this takes us by surprise, as they seemed mentally fine before. You were fortunate to have visiting nurses to talk with and you obviously did the right thing in getting your mother diagnosed. It's hard to absorb the truth, but knowing is always better. Then we can take action.

     


    Take care,

    Carol

    • Joseph
      Nov. 18, 2009

      Carol, Thanks for the comment.  It really was a surprise how quickly she changed after the stroke.  The visiting nurses really were a big help to us. -- Joe

    • Nagraj Jain
      Oct. 11, 2012

      Mazor trauma. Must be real cause as my experience tells me. Hwo your dear ones behave with you under such circumstances is important.

  • Nagraj Jain
    Oct. 11, 2012

    After reading the whole story my wife is practically passing through the same sequence after her stroke. But her progress is very slow. some time it is difficult to pin point the exact diagnosis. But discription same.

    • Carol Bradley Bursack
      Health Guide
      Oct. 11, 2012

      You are right. Your response is the same. Show love and help her feel secure.

      Take care,

      Carol

    • Nagraj Jain
      Oct. 11, 2012

      Thnaks carol.

  • NC
    NC
    Nov. 18, 2009

    Joseph, Thank you for sharing your mother's story. It is good that you can care for her personally. Not many people can do that. It is sad that she went downhill so suddenly this year with 2 kinds of dementia. It is even scary knowing your uncle and aunt died from AD. At least she thought she could have AD.

    My FIL never admitted anything about Alzheimer's....

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    Joseph, Thank you for sharing your mother's story. It is good that you can care for her personally. Not many people can do that. It is sad that she went downhill so suddenly this year with 2 kinds of dementia. It is even scary knowing your uncle and aunt died from AD. At least she thought she could have AD.

    My FIL never admitted anything about Alzheimer's. As MD PhD, he as a professor refused to acknowledge it and claimed that he would know. But how could he know once he is in this himself? He at times said his  brain is screwed up (mental deficiency) but he never said he has AD and will never do so. He has been literally on this path for at least 4 years now. He started repeating questions in late 2004. He got worse in Nov, 2007. We had 24 home care service ever since. (2 years 24 hours care with different level of care.) I personally think these elders need one on one care, but in reality, it is hard esp. in later stage.

    It is so sad. I wish there is cure ASAP.

     

    Take care,

    Nina

    • Joseph
      Nov. 18, 2009

      Nina, I appreciate your reply.  Mom is aware that she is having mental difficulties and has commented to me about it.  I know that she is scared due to her brother and sister dying with Alzheimer's.  I agree that we really need a cure for this! -- Joe

    • Nagraj Jain
      Oct. 11, 2012

      The real cure lies in assureing those affected about their care and fear by the person who will be 24 hours with them.