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Are sudden declines in someone with dementia normal?

mommysunglassesAfter getting my daughter off to school, I check my phone and see that I’ve gotten a call from my Mom’s retirement community. My heart beats faster. It’s 8:30 a.m. and my Mom isn’t up this early, did something happen to Mom?

I listen to my voice mail message and it’s my Mom. I can hear the panic in her voice. “Kay, I don’t know what’s going on, where I am or what my hours are. Can you come visit me today?”

Did the universe know I just posted a blog saying I was “temporarily calmed” knowing that the personal assistants were helping me feel like I could dial back my visits to my Mom? I sense these days of clarity are going to come to an abrupt end. I just visited my Mom two days ago, so I wasn’t planning to go back today. However, I cannot not answer her call.

I admit I do a mental checklist before I blow up my day and head down to visit my Mom.

  • Will she remember she called me?  In general, my Mom has no short-term memory. When I return my call ten minutes later, she tells me she wasn’t sure if she called me or not. However, she would have called again. I often get clusters of calls within an hour on the same topic if I’m unable to return my Mom’s phone calls.
  • What will happen if I do not call or visit? As I have written, the emotional memories linger. I know my Mom is afraid. I’m a little worried because it’s early in the morning and usually she has more difficultly in the afternoon and evening.

The first and most difficult part of my journey was when we would offer help and my parents would not accept it. Now, she’s called me to ask for help and I will respond as I hope my children would respond if I called and asked them for help.

When I arrive, my Mom is noticeably more confused. She insists we go to the grocery store although her supplies (coke, peanut butter, jelly, bread and butter) are plentiful. As we are leaving she tells me we need to go get more underwear as well. After 45 minutes we finally walk out the door and today, she left her sunglasses in the apartment. Rather than return, I give her my pair to wear. As we drive away, she expresses her gratitude that I came and tells me how much she loves these shopping trips.

The rest of our trip is uneventful and when we walk back into her apartment she turns to me as asks “Is this my room?” She then starts to ask me what she’s supposed to be doing. “What is my schedule?”  We are realizing that Assisted Living really isn’t the right place for someone with Memory Care needs. Her personal assistant has arrived so I talk to her about working on helping her with a schedule for the rest of the day.

Something is very different so I stop and request that they check to see if my Mom has a Urinary Tract Infection — these changes seem too sudden. Suspected.

7 comments on “Are sudden declines in someone with dementia normal?

  1. Yes, I would certainly check for a urinary tract infection. But maybe your mother’s doctor should check more. Mom started to suddenly deteriorate after she was in assisted living and I thought it was her living situation. However later I learned her blood chemistry was out of balance and in fact she had a small mass on her kidney. She also had her thyroid irradiated which was the first thing that caused the unbalance in her blood tests. But, the doctor was so focused on rebalancing the thyroid that he missed the kidney problem all together. It was only after she was hospitalized with a broken hip that they learned of her kidney problem.

    Probably the doctor will focus on one thing at a time, starting with a possible uti, but it could be something else, and yes, it could be the dementia. It is hard for a family member to figure the cause and I think it is hard for the professionals to tell sometimes too. Good luck to you and your mother. I hope the extra help you have hired will also help you at this time

  2. It is so hard to go through these highs and lows of emotions with our folks as they age. I went to visit Miss D yesterday and found her sick in bed with pneumonia and a possible UTI or kidney stone. Her back was really hurting. It came on in the last few days and as a non-family member I’m not notified, the guardian was. Today I head out to help my husband take care of our 90 year-old mother with Alzheimer’s still at home – she’s sick with a fever. I agree . . . It’s difficult planning a care schedule for loved ones who can’t explain what’s wrong.

  3. Kay,

    Vascular dementia (http://goinggentleintothatgoodnight.com/2013/06/13/a-laypersons-guide-to-vascular-dementia-multi-infarct-dementia-small-vessel-ischemia-and-tias/) is characterized by steep and sudden stairstep declines. What you describe is exactly the same sort of behavior and declines I watched my mom go through in a very short period of time. It was bewildering and scary, especially as they progressed.

  4. With dementia, it is so hard to know if it is the disease causing the mental decline, or another condition. My dad ended up with a bladder infection at the care center, but we were never sure if it was the infection or the medications that he was on that caused him to have “bad” days more often.

  5. […] visiting my Mom and noticing a difference in her demeanor and confusion, I contact the nursing station to ask that they check my Mom for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). […]

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