Welcome to the Twilight Zone

When a person is taking care of a family member who has a long-term illness or debilitating condition, the term “caregiver” means so much. When dementia, or its most common form — Alzheimer’s Disease, is added to the list of ailments, caregiving enters a whole new realm.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

“Where is the checkbook?”

“It’s in the desk.”

“Where is the checkbook?”

“It’s in the desk.” (Times 25.)

“I have to pay the phone bill.”

“We paid it already.”

“I have to pay the phone bill.”

“We paid it already.” (Times 25.)

“Are you having a problem with the checkbook? You have been working with the reconciliation for the past two hours.”

“No, but I can’t seem to figure it out.”

“No, no, I won’t go in there!”

“You must take a shower now.”

In the car, at every intersection you come to:

“Turn right here.”

“No, we go left.”

“We HAVE to turn right.”

“No, we go left.”

“You’re going the WRONG WAY!”

“Who are those people in the bedroom?”

“Why is the chaplain sitting in our tree?”

“Who was that woman in my bed last night?”

“That was me, your wife.”

The spouse or adult child who must care for his or her demented loved one, feels as if he or she has dropped out of reality. The familiar person is right there, but the personality is fading away into someone completely different until it seems as if no one is there at all.

How can anyone understand the caregiver’s needs and stresses when the whole situation is so bizarre? Who can even guess at the exhaustion that comes with being on duty at full alert 24/7?

To compound matters, dementia usually befalls people in their senior years when the caregiving spouse’s energy levels are diminished.

And for those with early-onset dementia, there are quite often children at home who must also be taken care of by the caregiver.

Fortunately, South Whidbey Island has someplace to go for help and understanding: the Alzheimer’s / Dementia Caregiver Support Group. It meets at 10 a.m. every first and third Tuesday of the month at the South Whidbey Senior Center in Bayview.

The group is made up of family caregivers who come together to figure out how to deal with the symptoms of dementia, help each other deal with the grief of watching a loved one fade away, and help each other to care for their own health.

The support group is affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Association, which provides a wonderful library of useful information.

There is so much help available! If you or someone you know is caring for someone with dementia, come (or have them come) to the support group.

If you suspect that you or your loved one may be experiencing early dementia, PLEASE see your family physician for a proper diagnosis. Early diagnosis is so important because some dementias can be the result of treatable conditions. If your case is not one that can be treated, there are medications that may help slow the progress of the disease. And there are certain legal issues that should be dealt with — such as wills, power-of-attorney for financial affairs and one for health matters.

Judith Coulter is a Greenbank resident.