The Hard Part

In 2015, a few months after mom died, I made a decision that caused the “Mom voice” in my head to scream “ARE YOU CRAZY?” I decided to adopt a 12 year old dog.

Penny is a Yorkshire terrier. Her previous home consisted of her original mom, plus a dad and two little children. Her parents worked a lot of hours, keeping the human kids in day care while the adults worked. Penny was kept in a crate when no one was around to care for her. No one should have to be in a cage 15 hours a day, let alone a creature who is genetically engineered for companionship. Penny’s life had evolved from being the center of her mistress’s world to being an inadvertent convict. I had the power to make that stop for her, so I did.

Bob and I adore this demanding little dog. Extremely bright, energetic and funny, we’ve enjoyed her immensely. A great traveler who is welcomed everywhere goes, she seeks the adoration of any human with whom she can engage, and usually succeeds. Not only is she pretty and courageous (she is the only dog I’ve ever met who barks at vacuum cleaners and fireworks), she makes unique noises. When content, she clucks like a hen. When absorbed in exploring during a walk, she grunts like a pig. And she snores like a sailor when she’s sleeping.

Shortly after we adopted her, some health issues arose. Her knees would displace (luxating patellas) and she’d limp. I found supplements to make her ligaments stronger and gave her physical therapy. Her leg strength improved and her knees stayed in place.

Then there was urination while sleeping. I discovered this when she had been napping in my lap, and upon disembarkation, found a wet spot on my jeans. Investigation revealed a homeopathic remedy that I could squirt down her throat twice a day. This worked beautifully for two years.

In the last couple of months, she began peeing in her sleep again. I took her to the vet to seek other remedies. He suggested urinalysis to see what was going on. The results were not good.

Blood work revealed kidney failure. It was early. We could give her low protein food and infuse subcutaneous fluids to keep her hydrated. We’ve been “poking the pup” nightly to pump 250 ml of Lactated Ringer’s Solution into our girl. She takes it well. But she’s clearly in a new, nearly final chapter, and it’s getting hard.

Last Wednesday, the vet examining Penny didn’t like the sound of her heart and lungs. An x-ray revealed enlargement of the heart and water where it shouldn’t be. Congestive heart failure is now on the menu. Lasix, a diuretic, is being prescribed. Guess what that does? It makes her pee more. Oh joy.

So, aside from the constant need to clean up her urine, wash her beds, change her diapers, let her out and walk her, we’re watching her lose ground. It’s awful seeing this happy little dog get tremors and have her legs buckle under her. She’s declining the biscuits she’s always gone crazy over. She won’t touch any of the prescription food, wet or dry. The only food she seems to like is wet cat food, and that’s high in protein, which isn’t good for her kidneys.

Thursday morning, I got up and checked on her. She prefers to sleep in a bed in my office. I used to try to get her up and out to pee before she could wet the bed, but I can’t seem to time it right anymore. And she was sleeping so soundly, I didn’t want to wake her. I also thought she might have already passed. Unwilling to confront that possibility, I went back to bed.

An hour later, she lifted her head when I walked into the office. She was ready to go out. And her bed was ready for the washer.

Speaking with the vet that morning, I learned that Penny’s kidney values were worse, pretty much where they were when we first diagnosed the issue, before the infusions began. The vet told me we could do ultrasound tests to get more data.

I told her, firmly but gently, I was not interested in spending hundreds of dollars on diagnostics that would tell me what I already know: my 14 year old dog is dying. I want to keep her as comfortable and happy as possible until I can’t do anything more to comfort her. The vet understood and supported that goal.

Penny will be getting Lasix to keep her heart functioning better (and peeing more). I will look for fattier food with less protein that she might actually eat. She is a little overweight for a dog her size (she had maxed out at 12 pounds, being spoiled by my husband, the human Pez dispenser), and in recent months got down to 11 pounds (still a pound more than she was when we adopted her). So she has weight to lose. And I suspect she will be losing a lot more weight as her condition deteriorates.

When you adopt an old dog, you know, intellectually, they will not last for a long time. I’ve spoken to Yorkie owners who say these little dogs can live to be 20. And, being the optimist I am, I had hoped Penny might be one of those lucky freaks of nature.

We now know, that is not the case. Penny will not make 20. I’m not sure if she’ll make it to 15. Her birthday is in September.

Here’s what I do know: I love this little dog with all my heart. I have enjoyed our time together more than I can possibly express. I am grateful that her previous owner was loving enough to have sought a great home for her. I will use my resources to give her the highest quality of life I can while she’s here. And I will miss her like crazy when she finally goes.

Was I crazy to have taken her in and put myself in a position to lose her so soon after adopting her? Possibly. Does watching a creature you love get sick and die hurt like hell? Do I even have to answer that question?

But do I have any regrets? Not one.

Posted in aging, death, dog, dying, Family, life changes, pets, planning | Leave a comment

Explaining

Lately, I’ve been asked about how to reason with a demented person, and it makes me laugh. Maybe I’m a little perverse, but if you know me, or have read any of my stuff, you know that humor is my favorite defense mechanism.

Having lived with this knowledge of the evils of dementia for several years now, and because I UNDERSTAND THIS so very well, I take for granted that EVERYONE knows it already. I need to be reminded that there are millions of people who haven’t gotten the memo yet. Thank you for reminding me. This mission is important and there’s a lot of educating to do.

So here goes: YOU CANNOT REASON WITH A DEMENTED PERSON. Saying anything to someone who is in cognitive decline has extremely limited value. Why?

  1. Demented people can’t learn anymore, so they can’t retain what you tell them.
  2. They are often HALLUCINATING. They see all kinds of things that we cannot. And what they see in their minds is just as real, if not more so, than anything you could possibly tell, show, or be to them.
  3. Their ability to “reason,” apply “logic” or comprehend language is diminishing, because their condition is damaging their brains.
  4. The information they are receiving from inside and outside is terrifying, especially in the beginning, when they are still high-functioning. They are finding that they can no longer trust what they perceive, and that they are losing the ability to be the person they have valued being. They often suspect that someone else is doing things to trick them. They become paranoid, agitated, frustrated, angry and unpleasant. I dare say you would, too.
  5. They do a good job of acting as if they understand what you’re saying, especially in the early stages. They’re usually good at “covering.” Because those of us who love them are in denial that they are as sick as they are, and we want to BELIEVE they comprehend, the ruse is successful for a while.

The great author, Robert Heinlein, famously said: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” And so it is with the demented. Don’t waste your valuable time annoying people (including yourself) and getting nowhere. Spend the time learning more about what they’re going through (reading this will help) and sharing affectionate moments with them instead. They don’t need to be corrected or convinced. They do need care and love.

And unlike pigs, demented people often can sing (and may surprise you by recalling lyrics), and will find enjoyment in connecting with music from their past. The emotional centers of their brains survive longer than the other parts, so connect there. You and your loved one will both feel inexplicably better as a result.

Posted in aging, caregiving, delusions, dementia, Family, life changes, psychosis | Leave a comment

“Dementia Sucks” on the Whole Care Network

Read here about my wonderful interview with caregiver advocate and host of Healing Ties, Chris MacClellan.

Posted in aging, book, caregiving, death, dementia, dying, Family, podcast | Leave a comment

It’s ALIVE!

“Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey – With Lessons Learned” is now on sale.

You can buy it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2Bik4YW

And Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dementia-sucks-tracey-s-lawrence/1127922824

Or just saunter into your favorite independent bookstore and ask for a copy. Really. That will help more than just about anything else you can do. Why? Because then they will have to buy it in order to sell it to you. And they’ll probably buy more than one. And then they’ll display “Dementia Sucks” where browsers can see it. And browsers will see the book and want one for their own. And they really need to know what’s in this book.

So thank you for visiting, thank you for caring and if there’s anything you want to know about dementia, feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll point you to someone who does. That’s the way I roll.

Posted in aging, book, dementia, Family | 2 Comments

It’s almost here!

On May 15th, 2018, “Dementia Sucks” will be available. The book that came from this blog will be a real paperback book (and also available as a Kindle edition). The wait is nearly over. Order yours now!

Posted in book, caregiving, dementia, Family, life changes, long term care, long term care insurance, planning | Leave a comment

On May 15th, the World Will Know!

2018BookCoverCompPromo

I told you I was going to do it. I took the posts from this humble blog, weeded out the ones that might hurt the living (hey, I’ve got scruples) and created a manuscript. One month after committing to getting it published, I got a deal. “Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey with Lessons Learned” will be published by Post Hill Press on May 15th, 2018. And you can pre-order your very own copy, right now, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Better yet, march into your local bookstore and tell them you want to order it. (Don’t you love bookstores? I know do!) That would help me a whole lot and the world a lot more. Because if you know anything about dementia, it really DOES suck. And if people knew more about it, fewer caregivers would die before their loved ones, and more of them would emerge intact. Thanks for your support!

Special Offer: for the first 50 people who send me proof of purchase of “Dementia Sucks”, I will send you a beautiful and useful Dementia Sucks fan!IMG_7487Dementia Sucks_cover_v3

Where the fan idea came from!

Posted in aging, book, caregiving, death, delusions, dementia, Family, life changes | Leave a comment

If you like this blog…

Calm Mom

Mom’s a morning person these days

…then you’ll love my new book, “Dementia Sucks: A Caregiver’s Journey with Lessons Learned.” 

The original posts from this blog chronicled my journey with my mother, Rosalind, as she suffered five years of cognitive decline. A year after she died in April 2015, I revisited what I’d written and thought, hmm, this could be a book. My publisher agreed.

As terrible as her situation was, a whole lot of hilarious and unexpected stuff happened. It was challenging, infuriating and heartbreaking, but in retrospect, it’s a good story. And it’s important for people to know, because millions of people are going to suffer before a cure is found, and we have to be ready.

Dementia really, truly does suck. But you can survive it. And I can show you how.

“Dementia Sucks” will be published by Post Hill Press in May 2018. Comment below and I’ll let you know when you can order your copy.

And by all means, “like” the Dementia Sucks Facebook page.

Posted in aging, book, caregiving, dementia | Leave a comment