The Question: What's normal in dementia?
The Answer: Whatever your dementia person is doing.
(No. Really. It's totally normal.)
Dementia is a disease of a different color.
Actually... let me rephrase that: Dementia is a disease of all the colors.
I wrote "Every dementia person is different." A Beginner's Guide to Dementia a couple of years ago to give other caregivers a heads up on commonalities in the dementia journey; sundowners, sleeplessness, depression, paranoia, etc., but I never dove into specifics as to what behaviors those manifestations may present in a person living with dementia. As "Is this normal?" is one of the most common questions I see in online communities I am here to rectify my oversight.
Dementia is not normal aging. However, every behavior you come across in your dementia person is "normal" for dementia. Somebody somewhere (often many, many, somebodies) has gone through the exact same thing and lived to pass along solutions.
If this statement finds you incredulous hit up one of this week's recommended caregiver communities, ask if anyone else is experiencing a particular behavior your dementia person is exhibiting, and find yourself in good company with some new, suggested strategies to employ.
The gamut of, "Holygawd! This ain't normal, is it?" is so vast and varied I can't begin to cover it all, but I can offer up mystifying moments from our journey when Mom was so not-Mom we were overwhelmed with disbelief.
"I'm just going to kill myself!"
Of course the diagnosis of dementia dropped an emotional bomb onto my parent's existence, but they choose to face it with courage and a lot of self-deprecating humor instead of outward despair. So, after Dad died I was flabbergasted at my tranquil dementia mom's oft-repeated proclamation "I'm just gonna kill myself!" Not the least as speaking in complete sentences had pretty much gone by the wayside already and doubling her volume was not her thing.
It concerned us so much that we wasted no time in getting the hunting rifles out of the house. I was pretty sure she didn't have the reach to pull the trigger and blow her brains out, but I didn't want to take any chances.
The death wish phase melted away within a few months only to resurface when she hit Downer Town, a prolonged bout of depression that had my devout mother rushing to meet her maker. I believe her motivation was to punch him in the face for this dementia fiasco.
Before I even knew online caregiver support groups existed where you could ask the "Is this normal?" question, The Other Girl and I discovered some dried poop chunks in a bucket in my father's toolroom. We discussed the possibility of it being Mom's ad nasueum until we finally came to the conclusion that a raccoon must have come into the house and done the deed in that particular bucket.
Yeah, that seems likely, eh? Oh, the naïveté of early days!
Not too long after we "solved" the bucket of poop mystery we caught Mom expediting her bowel movements with her own digits, then in her confusion as to what to do with the brown nuggets depositing them in various clothing, canisters, and corners of the house.
Text from my sister:
"Woke up to poop in my bathrobe pocket. How's your morning going?"
"Toothpaste in her hair."
The house almost didn't make it.
Two twin instances of utter disbelief on our journey happened way after I should have known better than to apply the word "normal" to any aspect of dementia. The first: Mom hit the Rage Stage. The second was the logical outcome of the first: she began destroying the house.
She dragged furniture everywhere. She tore the thermostat off the wall. (In the dead of winter no less! Thanks, dementia.) She ripped the molding off the bathroom door frame. She shook the front door with such force I thought she was going to break the decorative window panels on each side!
We spent a full year in the Rage Stage (yuck). The house has never been the same.
...from the "Nu-uh, NO WAY!" that I've been privy to from caregiver compadres:
A caregiver daughter being accused of having an affair with her father by her dementia mom.
A caregiver granddaughter repeatedly telling her dementia grandma that no, she did not steal all the TVs in the house.
A caregiver spouse discovering her LBD husband watching porn with his young boys.
So yeah, it's all "normal" in dementia.
You and your dementia person are going to go through a lot of what would be abnormal in the cognitive world, but completely normal in the dementia world. Take a deep breath, seek out suggestions from other caregivers, try and find the humor in it (I was often able to after the fact), and just keep swimming.
Dory was right.
🎶 Just keep swimming! 🎶
🎶 It's all normal! 🎶
🎶 Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming! 🎶