One of the symptoms of Dementia, or perhaps sickness in general, is the feeling of absence, of not feeling at home, in your own home. A couple of times my grandmother has mentioned this odd feeling to me, where she feels homesick, even though she is in her own home, surrounded by family close by. Today at lunch, she said it again, and asked me if I ever get the feeling. I said no, and the conversation ended. She doesn’t usually go too in-depth with her feelings. She sort of mentions things, in a clinical or abstract sort of way, and then moves on to something else.
I think people may look at the obvious signs of dementia and forget about the other emotional aspects. Deep inside everyone’s mind, they have a rich life of wonder, fear, and anticipation of the days to come. Depending on the stage and condition of the person, this can vary greatly. My gram is still pretty coherent, but I can see her growing worry, and the forms it takes on.
Anxiety and worry shows up in new ways for her. She has never been much of a worrier at all; she has been blessed with a great life. It’s almost as if the anxiety or as she calls her paranoia gives her a sense of purpose and structure, in a mind that is losing focus and the ability to identify with routine and tasks. Some of us may take for granted how much meaning we give life and the little things we do, and when it goes away, you can only imagine the sense of floating in space those with dementia must feel. We feel at home when we are surrounded by the same smells, sounds, voices, fights, laughter, and little things we don’t think much about.
Whether it’s checking her bag and making sure she has her nice gloves, pacing at night, or worrying about if we have enough spare boxes of her favorite Black Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits, this anxiety seems to provide meaning or a context for her life. And no matter how close the family is to her, and how much we respect her dignity and lifestyle, she can’t help but feel different and alone.