I wasn’t ready for this stage quite yet.
I’ve tried to prepare myself for our future with dementia by educating myself on the disease. I have read books. I have gone to support groups. I network with others online. I think, for most part, I know what to expect. Yet I did not expect to have this issue at this phase in the game. I thought this part wouldn’t come until the end. That’s usually when a person refuses to eat. Or, at least, that’s what I thought.
I know that mom could pass through many phases in this diseases. I’ve read about others who regress back to toddlerhood and infancy, putting non-food objects in their mouth, getting into things they shouldn’t be touching. I know many caregivers have to “childproof” their living spaces to keep their loved one safe. Most, if not all, lose the ability to toilet themselves, shower themselves or take care of any hygiene for that matter. Towards the end phases, many have trouble walking, talking (some lose language completely), and many develop problems swallowing and lose the ability to eat.
Mom hasn’t passed through any of these phases yet. She still takes care of her own hygiene. She toilets and showers herself. She puts on a face of make-up and attempts to curl her hair everyday (though not quite like she used to). Aside from hiding car keys, medicines and credit cards, we haven’t had to childproof anything from mom. I thought she would have to pass through all of these phases before she struggled with the eating phase. I expected it. I guess it’s true what they say. No two cases of dementia are exactly alike.
Over the past couple of months, mom has altered her diet once again. One thing always remains the same, and that is her morning Slim Fast. [Although one minor modification to that is that sometimes she will skip it in the morning now and drink it for lunch instead]. A typical day consists of: Slim Fast in the morning, a sandwich for lunch (with turkey, tomato, sliced American cheese, mayo and lots of sandwich oil), occasionally fruit (strawberries or canned pineapple) or Poppycock for an afternoon snack, and an Ensure for dinner. If we are lucky, she might go out to dinner with us but that has almost become non-existent as well. We can’t even get her to go out to her favorite restaurant (Miguel’s) anymore!
In the past week, the only solid food mom has eaten is some strawberries (twice) and 1 1/2 or 2 sandwiches; this is total for the entire week. She might have tried to eat a handful of Poppycock popcorn once or twice. Half of that food was thrown up. She drinks her Slim Fast everyday, once a day, and drinks a small can of Ensure most nights for dinner. Half of that has been thrown up as well. She only drinks water (about 6-8 oz) when she takes her medication, 3 times a day (as far as I’ve noticed). Try as we might, we cannot get her to eat anything. We’ve tried soups, Gatorade, popsicles, lemon-ginger tea, breads, toast...we’ve even offered to take her shopping to pick out what she thought would sit well in her stomach. It’s no use. Mom has it in her head that if she eats, she will throw up. And when mom has something in her head, you cannot convince her otherwise.
My dad took her to a follow-up appointment with the doctor yesterday…if that did any good. All they did was order more lab work and give her more medicine: one medication to prevent her from throwing up, and one medication to help increase her appetite.
My dad is willing to do anything at this point to get her to eat, including to try this medication. I suppose it is worth a shot, but I’m a bit more hesitant-with good reason. With mom’s disease, the body loses it’s ability to make sense of bodily functions and signals. For example, mom cannot understand why her eyes water all the time; she thinks she’s “so weird” when she burps or yawns or if her stomach makes noises. She doesn’t understand these things anymore or what these functions represent. Along with this, they (those with semantic dementia) lose the sense of knowing when they are hungry or full. I firmly believe that mom’s ability to decode hunger is lost. I think a part of her stomach pains could actually be attributed to hunger pain. But she doesn’t recognize it as such. Instead of eating and ending the hunger pains, she skips meals because she’s afraid of upsetting her stomach.
If my hypothesis is correct, wouldn’t it be logical, then, to say that this medication will only worsen her stomach problems?
Mom now weighs in at 126 pounds. That means she has lost another 14 pounds in the past 5 months and I would say most of that has been in the past 2 months. If this drastic change in her eating continues, at what point will the doctors do more than just prescribe a pill? I’m not sure what this means for the future. Is it just a phase? Will she eventually start to eat again? Or has she taken a drastic turn?