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AfriGeneas Health and Wellness Forum

Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

My husband, Fred Adams Sr, has always had his own way of doing things, strong-willed, bullheaded, whatever you want to call it. He's a survivor. He always endured and came out on the winning end no matter how bleak the situation.

He overcame infantile paralysis and years of surgeries to correct a shorter left leg. He remembers when he was in a full body cast for nearly a year once, and his preacher father, Thomas Adams Sr, carried him everywhere. Fred said he started kindergarten at age 8 but did not really stand out because he was just as small as the others. He remembers his parents breaking up when he was six, and seeing his mother only a few times after that. She died several years later.

In school he fought off bullies who tormented him about his speech impediment and diminutive height. He grew up in North Carolina in the '40s and '50s, and felt the stifling grip of Jim Crow. A white school counselor once told him that he would be wasting his time trying to go to college because with his disabilities, he would only be suitable for janitorial work. Even though Fred did not go to a four-year college, he set out to prove that white school counselor and everyone else wrong. He succeeded!

In 1974, he took the long bus trip from North Carolina and the comfort of his family, to California. He worked at odd jobs and eventually learned to create different ways to make money on his own. He became his own boss, wrote his own ticket, and made a good living for many years.

Fred knew instinctively how to win and maintain satisfied customers for his landscaping business, and later for his most lucrative power-cleaning franchise. He was the one who waved to all the neighbors and had long talks with them on their porches. I gave him the nickname "Gate Mouth" because of his winning smile of evenly matched white teeth. He and I have not always seen eye to eye, but we both knew that he was LARGE and IN CHARGE! In 2003, he decided to get a regular 8-hour job, retire from it, and enjoy his "golden years". That hasn't happened.

In 2007, he began to dress for work on days when his place of employment was closed. It took nearly half an hour once for me to convince him that he did not have to report for work that day. He began to have trouble understanding instructions on his job, but his boss thought he was being insubordinate. I thought he might have a brain tumor from using his cell phone so regularly. In 2008, his other medical problems, failing mental cognition and increased hallucinations brought about his early retirement. In February 2009, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, later that same year, a new doctor diagnosed him with frontal-temporal lob dementia. As the front part of the brain atrophies, it shrinks and darkens. The patient's cognitive abilities, motor and speech skills degenerate. There is no known cause and no known cure. A recent TV news story reported that doctors are beginning to see this type of dementia hit people Fred's age and younger. We were told that Fred's level of dementia is surprisingly severe, usually not seen in people until they reach their late 70s or early 80s -- not someone in their mid 60s.

It's been a major MAJOR lifestyle adjustment for all of us. I am now fulltime caregiver to my once very strong-minded, able-bodied, and dominant husband. He was always a much better cook than I, but now he cannot even figure out how to make a baloney sandwich.

There are others out there who are familiar with this. Of course, I've seen a grandparent or a cousin suffer from diminished capacity and ANOTHER relative become caregiver for them. Fred may outlive me and the rest of us in so-called good health, but it is painful to watch him fade day by day. It is more painful to realize that he knows...he knows things are drastically different and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

The county will notify us when his application for sanctioned eldercare programs is approved. In the meantime he still enjoys music, going out to eat and to the park, or just for a drive in the sunshine. We're working on getting him one of those Hoverounds or other type of scooters. He really wants one.

If it weren't for our faith in God and the help of our children, Fred and I would not be able to get through each day. Another thing that helps me stay strong so I can render to Fred, is the genealogical research I do. My Afrigeneas family and God. Thank you for letting me share.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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