Medication has made a huge difference in Jim’s fight against dementia. He was prescribed Aricept and Namenda immediately upon diagnosis 13 years ago. Getting an early start with these two common dementia medications has no doubt helped to slow down the progression of the disease and allowed him to survive these 13 years while maintaining physical capabilities far exceeding the norm. But as detailed in my last blog, “It’s Not Always Dementia,” another of the medications prescribed made Jim very sick and increased his physical aggression to unacceptable levels. The drug was a controlled substance and had been prescribed to reduce anxiety. This medicine was so toxic to Jim’s system that it required a 17-day hospital stay to successfully recover.
A less toxic drug was prescribed to take the place of the problem medication. Jim also continued taking a second anxiety medication he had been prescribed prior to entering the hospital. The dosages of both of these drugs were pretty substantial, but Jim was able to tolerate this combination, and the extreme physical aggression largely disappeared.
…after Jim got out of the hospital there were lots of new problems
However, a few months after Jim got out of the hospital there were lots of new problems. Jim continued losing weight and now had dropped over 50 pounds. Jim was constantly drooling, he slept 15 to 18 hours a day, he could no longer feed himself, he totally stopped communicating, he could not tie his shoes, and his physical abilities were quickly evaporating. I had always considered it a marker of Jim’s strength that he could still walk up steps – something few dementia patients diagnosed 10 year or longer are able to do – and to see him lose that ability was especially discouraging to me.
As things rapidly deteriorated, I again thought this might be the progression of the disease. But my recent experience with the toxic drug had taught me it could well be that his medications needed tweaking. We went back to see Dr. Charles Edwards at the Memory Center Charlotte. He spent about 20 minutes talking to Jim and when finished, he turned to me and said “Jim is still in there. But he has this medicine shell covering him that won’t let him out. Let’s see if we can get him out of there.” Dr. Edwards cut back the two controlled substance drugs to only 30 percent of the original dosage. In their place was put two medications that were not controlled substances and not addictive. (Jim’s diet was also dramatically altered, but more of that in the next blog post.)
The change in Jim was immediate. His appetite roared back. Within the first month he stopped drooling, started feeding himself, started saying short sentences, tied his own shoes, and could again walk up steps unassisted (even while carrying something in his hands)! The transformation was absolutely remarkable. You can see in the photo how emaciated, pale, and unexpressive Jim looked before the medication change was made in August 2015. Seven months later he is a new man. It feels like I have my husband back. Some of the old irritability has returned — he often pounds his fist on the table in frustration. But to me these issues are a small price to pay to bring Jim back from the Ozone – because that is, metaphorically, where he was.