Part One – The Clues
I am not a psychologist. I am not a physician. I am just a lawyer and I deal with different kinds of people every day. I love people and I love working with families to guide, educate and help them to solve complex problems before they happen. Estate, Business and Tax Planning are all about CONTROL. When it comes to my own family though, I am just like everybody else. Professionally I understand, in dementia, there is no control. Personally, I had no idea of the real impact of the loss of control on the loved one with dementia, and the family.
A beloved member of my family, whom I shall call Annie, began exhibiting some strange symptoms. My family and I had no idea what was happening to her at the time. The diagnosis of dementia fell like a ton of bricks. We never saw it coming. However, today when we meet as a family and look back, the clues were there.
In our family we speak to each other every day….by phone, by text, by email. We all have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), but in our jobs it helps. We all talked to Annie every day. She seemed fine. She always answered our questions and asked some of her own. She came over to watch the dog. Came to family gatherings. Participated in everything.
The first clue came when she drove me to the airport. Annie has lived in the Valley of the Sun since she graduated from the University of Arizona, back in the sixties. She missed the exit. She was very upset about missing the exit, more so then I thought was appropriate. She was so upset I had to guide her back to the airport to drop me off. I was very bothered that she was so upset. I called her as soon as I reached my destination, and when I called her later that evening, she was home and happily eating dinner. I put it off to stress and forgot about the episode.
The next clue came about a month later. Annie was born and raised in Los Angeles, and had a second home in Northridge, near where she grew up. She always travelled to Northridge over the Christmas Holiday, to be near that side of the family. However, one evening she called my sister and told her “Something is wrong. I have to come home.” She then drove back to Scottsdale. When we asked her what was wrong? she laughed it off. It was then that more clues started to appear. She stopped calling us every day. We would call her and speak to her, until one day she told us her cell phone was broken and calls to her just stopped. Emails stopped as well. Annie is the kind of person who sends interesting emails to everybody in the family. Emails with attached articles about whatever was important to that person. Elizabeth was pregnant, so she always sent articles about a healthy pregnancy. Eddie was going to college and didn’t know what to study. Annie sent him articles about drones and the future of drone research. We all were the beneficiaries of her kindness and love. The emails stopped and she told us her computer was broken.
Now we started to watch her. We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know what. I went to her house to check up on her and I found months of unopened mail on the floor of the garage. I walked into the house and was floored. The house looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in months and smelled like it too. Annie was not at home. Her car was gone, and I felt like someone threw a bucket of cold water over me. The realization hit me and I knew. Annie has dementia. What to do now?
To be continued….