Issues in Identifying Dementialand (aka Why I Shouldn’t Be Left Home Alone)

My husband was at a conference all week, and I had a plan. I was going to paint the kitchen and put up a new light fixture.

I sent a text to my friend CJ who lives in Michigan to ask if he thought I was capable of putting up a light fixture. CJ happens to be an electrician. He told me it shouldn’t be that hard. There will be white wires and black wires. I just have to match them up.

Then he texts, “You got this.” And, a few seconds later, “TURN OFF THE POWER.” What he’s really saying here is that he wants to instill confidence in me but doesn’t have quite enough confidence to trust that I will turn off the power, but I appreciate that he doesn’t want me to die.

I buy a light fixture and some paint. I remove the existing light fixture. I lift the new light fixture over my head. I promptly drop it, and it shatters. Not a great start, but I can buy another light fixture the next day.

The next day I go back to Home Depot and buy a new light fixture. I give it another shot. Then I realize that the whole white and black wire deal doesn’t apply if you have a house that is 80 years old. All I have are two cloth covered wires.

I am not exactly a practical hands-on problem solver, so I text CJ (who is a practical hands-on problem solver) a picture of the situation and then call him. He tells me I am going to have to take a guess on the wires and then switch them if the light doesn’t work. After we hang up, I get a text: “YOU TURNED THE POWER OFF, RIGHT?” I appreciate that he cares so much about my personal safety. I follow his instructions but the light doesn’t work.

I get frustrated and quit. I decide to start painting. I am standing on my oven when I realize the top of our oven vent hood needs a coat of paint. Without thinking (obviously), I use the wall paint. Yeah, I know. You can’t do that. But it gets worse. I haven’t hit rock bottom quite yet.

I find some spray paint that says it can be used on metal, so I spray a coat of that over the top. Yeah, I know you can’t do that either.

I realize that this is a fairly large error in judgement. I text CJ a picture. He texts back, “HOLY MOSES.” Yeah, I know.

Then I go into full meltdown mode. I’m on the verge of tears and decide I need some wine. The kitchen is a mess because of my projects, so all I can find is a mug. I pour some wine into it. Then I sit on the kitchen floor, drinking wine out of a mug, and thinking about my weaknesses as a person.

A few weeks after my “incident,” I am visiting with an acquaintance. She has concerns about her grandpa (who she refers to as Grandpa Freddy) and is wondering if he might have dementia. I ask her why she’s concerned. She tells me that he was working on a simple bathroom project, got flustered, and just gave up. When her grandma came home, she found him sitting on the edge of the tub in tears.

This reminds me of my “incident.” Except Grandpa Freddy didn’t seem to do any actual damage and wasn’t drinking wine out of a mug while crying. And her grandpa’s behavior seemed to be more worrisome to family and friends than my behavior. No one wondered if I had dementia when I had a complete home improvement disaster followed by a meltdown.

You might attribute that to age. People are more likely to suspect you have dementia when you are older. However, there are people who are my age diagnosed with dementia everyday.

There’s another factor. We are different people. If I pull something similar when I’m in my 60’s, it’s probably not dementia. It’s just how I roll. Apparently, this wasn’t how her grandpa typically rolled.

He had done dozens of household projects. He was very competent, and this was a simple project that brought him to tears. Could he have dementia? Maybe, because it’s a change in behavior. We really don’t change that much as we age unless we have health issues.

The take-home message here is that when competent home do-it-yourselfers and rational problem-solvers start acting like I do regularly, they might have dementia. As for me, I’m fine. I just have a tendency to turn into an idiot when I attempt home improvement projects.

That’s why it’s so hard to diagnose Alzheimer’s and related dementias. We are all different to start. A doctor gives someone easy math problems. If they can’t do them, they might have dementia. Well, what if that person wasn’t good at math to start with? A person has flat affect and doesn’t show emotion. This could certainly be related to a dementia, but they may have been that way their entire life.

Using the wrong “there” and “their” may be related to dementia if you’re an English teacher, but I see people on Facebook may that mistake everyday. I’m not worried they have dementia. I know of an older woman who yells inappropriate comments at sporting events. A part of me wonders if she has dementia, but maybe she’s just inappropriate. I didn’t know her forty years ago.

And everyone, no matter how competent they are at something, messes up from time to time. Everyone uses poor judgment once in a while. We are talking about patterns of behavior here, not isolated incidents. And if something seems wrong, it could be something other than dementia (e.g., depression, cancer).

Final note on my “incident”… I got the light to work on the third day. As for the oven vent hood, I had to strip all the paint off with some crap that made my eyes burn and then repaint it with some epoxy stuff. It looks passable. CJ said he knew I had it in me all along. He may not have been telling the truth, but I appreciate it anyway.

One thought on “Issues in Identifying Dementialand (aka Why I Shouldn’t Be Left Home Alone)

  1. You need to write a book for docs — seriously. They need your insight. We — as caregivers — need you to do this. To often, it’s caregivers/dementia patients vs. the world, particularly docs. And that’s stupid and unnecessary.


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