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Dementia Has Affected My Life

Why do bad things happen to good people?  That is a question that I ask myself everyday and it is something that I will never understand.  On November 22, 2016, I lost my Poppop to dementia.  Dementia is a horrible disease that causes your mental ability to deteriorate, and it is serious enough to interfere with your daily life.  My Poppop was diagnosed with the second most common form of dementia, Vascular Dementia, which occurs after a stroke.  Unfortunately, my Poppop suffered many strokes in the last few years of his life.  

My Poppop was and always will be one of the most important people in my life.  He taught me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, how to swim, and many more things to shape me into the person I am today.  He was one of the smartest people that I knew, he was a middle school Algebra teacher for many years.  It is amazing how someone can go from teaching math everyday to not being able to recognize themselves in the mirror, to tell you their name or birthday, or to use the bathroom or shower on their own.  Dementia causes a person to lose their independence, which can be immensely difficult.  

The hardest part of watching someone you love waste away is that they don’t even realize that you are there caring for them, worrying about them, and already missing them.  Although he officially died just last year, in reality he left us many years ago.  When he passed, I was heartbroken, but also very relieved that he didn’t have to suffer anymore.  I realized after he left the earth, that I had already grieved his loss. Because of the dementia, he was unable to be present at holidays, birthdays, and vacations.  In essence, it felt as though he was already gone. 

After his first stroke ten years ago, we noticed right away that he wasn’t the same.  Little by little, pieces of my Poppop started to disappear.  He had difficulty remembering things, performing simple tasks, and keeping to his routines.  Eventually, he had difficulty communicating.  As the dementia progressed over the years, it became increasingly challenging to take care of him.  Basically, he required 24-hour care.  We made one of the most difficult decisions a family could ever make, we placed him in a memory-care nursing home.  

While the staff were gracious and showed immense empathy toward him, the sad memories of visiting him in that facility will haunt me for the rest of my life. The home was filled with many people just like Poppop, lost souls who could not recognize those of us who loved them.  In one of the last times that I was able to see him, I simply laid my head on his chest to let him know that I was there. I believe and hope somewhere deep down inside he knew it was me.  I also hope and believe that he is in a better place, and that I will see him again one day.