Until May 2014, Jim’s dementia had manifested itself as a gradual decline in cognitive and physical abilities. Then without warning there was a significant deterioration in Jim’s level of capabilities and a simultaneous major increase in Jim’s level of agitation. It was all we could do to get Jim through the day without a major incident that was emotionally and physically difficult for him and others. Jim was unhappy, frustrated, and mad about pretty much everything.
I assumed what was happening to him was the normal progression of his dementia.
I felt totally helpless. I had no idea what to do to for Jim. I assumed what was happening to him was the normal progression of his dementia. While my desire had always been to keep Jim home as long as possible, I felt the time when we would have to make a change was drawing near. And that was breaking my heart. In desperation I contacted a dementia specialist I had read about in the newspaper – Dr. Charles Edwards of Memory Center. If he could help us address just a few of Jim’s problems, I thought, maybe the situation would become manageable again.
Dr. Edwards immediately zeroed in on a controlled substance Jim had been prescribed three months earlier. It was a medicine typically prescribed for psychological problems, but often given to dementia patients to help with mood issues. However, the doctor told us this medicine also had a history of toxicity in a subset of seniors. Based on symptoms and behaviors he immediately observed, Dr. Edwards said he was confident this drug was at the center of Jim’s problems. Initially prescribed to Jim to actually reduce aggression, this medicine was now literally driving him crazy.
That next day Jim was admitted to a specialized unit for seniors at Carolinas Healthcare System Northeast, where he would gradually be weaned from the drug. Headed by Dr. Jon McKinsey , one of the most qualified physicians in the area of geriatric medicine, and staffed by a team of very knowledgeable nurses, this unit is a tremendous resource in the Carolinas for people struggling with these specific issues.
the toxic medicine had been eliminated from his regimen, and he was responding well to the non-toxic alternative with which it had been replaced
When Jim was released 17 days later, the toxic medicine had been eliminated from his regimen, and he was responding well to the non-toxic alternative with which it had been replaced. To me, it felt like a miracle. Three weeks prior to hospitalization, Jim’s behavior had bordered on physical abuse. Now that behavior had largely disappeared. We had been given our lives back.
This challenge turned out to be significant because we learned we could fight back and make progress. We learned we shouldn’t accept every new symptom as a natural progression of dementia. In this case, it was Jim’s prescription that had actually been responsible for his problems, which almost resulted in him having to move to a memory facility. It was an experience I knew I must keep in the forefront of my mind as we continued to navigate the challenges presented by dementia. It was the biggest hurdle we had overcome to date, and little did I know there would be even more significant battles to be fought within a very short time.