Dementia: Remembering on her birthday

On Sunday we celebrated my wife’s 95th birthday. We had balloons, we wore funny hats, and we had a cake with many candles. We were noisy and laughed a lot; we kissed her and caressed her fresh haircut. She sat quietly in her wheelchair, one of the caregivers helping her to small bites of cake. She played with one balloon, which popped. She did not notice. She looked around, not recognizing any of us. What was on her mind? What happened to all the memories stored in her brain? We do not know; she has dementia.

Dr Martin, one of only four doctors on the North Shore at the time, delivered her in the family home in 1924. She was an only child, and her parents doted over her. She was strong, played softball with the boys, and was involved in ballet. She did not take crap from anyone. Her Dad took her and her dog Spot hunting ducks and pheasants on the marshes of the then undeveloped North Shore.

She does not remember any of this. We show her the tennis trophies she has won, pictures of our son and daughter, the places we have visited, our cats and dogs; there’s no visible reaction.

After our birthday lunch we got her to walk with two caregivers who lightly hung onto her and put her back in her hospital bed, set up in our family room. It is summer but the gas fireplace is on because she feels cold most of the time.

Over the last 4 years the two of us have shared our home with a series of over 60 caregivers, three of whom were male, of all nationalities, languages, levels of training and experience, backgrounds, and food preferences. I have a lot of support from our daughter and son (both living far away) and from friends and former colleagues. I am grateful for the care she is receiving.

Happy birthday, Bess!
—George Szasz, CM, MD

This posting has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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