Dementia, a dreaded enemy

By Helen Guilford

When I was a couple of months from being 12 years old, my parents became superintendent and matron of the Fulton County Home, a residential setting for the elderly who needed end-of-life care. It was a live-in position so the Guilford family took up residence there as well. Recently, I’ve become more aware of how that family experience laid a foundation for today.

I saw residents come and go. One man I remember would take up residence with us and stay months at a time before he walked away. We would look for him and, after the first time, just waited for him to return.

Interestingly, several years later, a discussion about that man came up at a conference for county home managers. It was discovered that, though the name didn’t match, this man lived the same life at other county homes as well. You see, he couldn’t talk plain so at each place of residence, he was known by a different name. But it was him, alright. Everything else matched.

That’s just background to today’s story.

Fifty some years ago, a friend told me she had quit her job and needed a place to stay for a few days while she looked for another. I said, “Well, you can stay with me for a few days.” That few days turned into many years and we were roommates.

Occupations changed with the years, she from bookkeeping and me from teaching. Eventually as years became years upon years, I became an underground coal miner. A week later, she hired in at the same mine. When the mine closed, we were both unemployed.

But now? She was diagnosed with dementia a little over a year ago and, though I had seen this coming, she had to enter an Assisted Living community. That lasted only two days until she walked out the front door that morning saying Helen was coming to get her and she would wait by the road. She was moved into the locked unit for dementia patients.

I have watched changes come, often rather rapidly, but some things never changed.

After a visit she would always walk me to the door, tell me she was glad I came and to drive carefully. But all things change, I guess. This week when I left from our visit which had included an appointment with a mental health clinic, she said, “Good bye, … And don’t come back!” She had listened while I told the therapist some of the recent changes I had seen.

She has no family. This has been a drain on her, as you have seen, but it is also a drain on me – emotionally, physically and, yes, even spiritually. I don’t remember dementia being so prevalent in our county home population. Perhaps it was and I didn’t recognize it. I was young when we went there but over the 24 years of my parents’ lives there, I still didn’t see those changes.

Now, every time I forget a name or can’t think of a word I need, I look critically at myself and wonder if this is the onset of that dreaded disease in my life. After all, I am four years older than she is.

I always looked at the “older generation” as having it all together and just enjoying well-deserved retirement. I’ve discovered that just isn’t true.

The only thing true forever and ever is God Himself and His plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. We don’t have to walk from one home for the poor elderly to another like our friend did. We only have to come to Jesus right where we stand or sit and invite Him into our hearts. Don’t delay doing that.

By Helen Guilford