Part One: A backwards glance…

We’ve all heard that hindsight is 20/20. I’d have to agree, but in my case, that clarity might be closer to 20/15 or 20/10. Looking back, the clues were so glaringly obvious! At the time, though, the thought that my bright, energetic mother might be showing signs of dementia, never even passed across my radar screen.

My parents received a hand-me-down computer from one of their granddaughters. It was their first experience with a computer and I must say, Mom, who was in her early eighties, learned the basics of computer use, including how to e-mail, without much trouble. Dad, nearing 90, was mostly interested in learning how to play a few simple games like solitaire, so that was the extent of his computer use. In any case, the extended family certainly encouraged any computer use, thinking it good “brain food” for our elderly parents.

After a couple of years successfully interacting with all of us through e-mail, Mom gradually began to have more and more issues actually sending emails, so I thought there might be something wrong with the computer’s hard drive and encouraged her to call the service tech at the local internet company in their small town. She set up an appointment and the tech came over, but found no issues with the computer, so he showed her once again how to “send” e-mail. In fact, this patient man came back to their home several times in an attempt to help her. Still, her computer glitches persisted.

If the tech couldn’t help her, our family decided that maybe we’d be able to help instead. When any of us visited from out of town, we’d sit down with her at the computer and carefully review its operation. She always took copious notes, which eventually grew into a tall, messy, somewhat illegible stack of paper scraps in the desk drawer. Once when I visited for the weekend, I drew step-by-step pictures on post-it notes and stuck them around the outer edge of her computer monitor. Sadly, even this didn’t help and I must admit I felt somewhat frustrated with her inability to follow what appeared to me as simple hand-drawn instructions. Eventually I had to let it go, arriving at the conclusion that Mom was simply “showing her age.” Our family no longer pushed the concept of her e-mailing and Dad’s interest in the computer games waned as well. As the weeks and then months passed, the computer continued to sit forlornly on Mom’s desk collecting dust. None of us considered that her inability to follow our directions and her loss of computer skills might be the beginning of a frightening and alarmingly devastating journey into the rabbit hole of dementia.

Since then, I’ve learned that it is not uncommon to miss the clues when someone we love may be acting in ways that go beyond normal aging. More clues were to follow, all equally ignored. Stay tuned!