There are few diseases and health conditions that affect people and their families the way dementia does.
In a world where people also live with cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cystic fibrosis, I’m not saying dementia is the worst of chronic illnesses. Nonetheless, there is something about dementia that just gets to me.
My opa died in March 2008 from a stroke.
He had other health issues, too, including dementia. The disease didn’t directly contribute to his death but affected who he was.
One time he hid in his closet because he was scared the Soviets were coming for him. That only makes sense if you know he fled Poland with his family during the Second World War — away from the Soviets.
This is one example of a memory that sticks with his loved ones, myself included.
Two weeks ago — on Christmas Day — I had the chance to spend about 15 minutes at Providence Place with another man who suffered from dementia.
Larry Bloom walked very slowly from the hallway where I first met him, to his room, which was only about eight feet away.
One of the walls in Bloom’s room had a few biographical anecdotes on it. The one thing I saw was he used to be a vice principal at Rockglen School.
Stepping back and looking at this little nugget two weeks later, I can only imagine how big and bright his mind used to be when he enlightened the minds of young kids.
I can picture a man who commanded attention, laughed frequently and pushed students toward achieving their goals.
On Christmas Day, however, I didn’t see any of that. Bloom looked lost, like he didn’t understand some of the questions I asked him.
That was not his fault. Nor was it his fault that he gave me incorrect answers to some of the questions I asked him.
I didn’t know, at the time, his answers were factually inaccurate.
You don’t ever want to see someone live with a disease that twists their brain into knots and sucks their memory out of them, but dementia does that.
Even the simplest detail — such as your own age — can be forgotten. Bloom told me his age, but I later found out from his children the number he gave was off by 10 years.
Bloom told me his wife would be coming to pick him up later that afternoon, but other than that he would be spending the majority of Christmas away from his family.
That was also wrong.
Bloom’s daughter had flown from Texas to spend the holidays with Bloom, and other family members had come from other places to spend a great deal of time in Moose Jaw with him.
If I had flown thousands of kilometres to be with a family member who has a debilitating disease like dementia, I would be outraged if a newspaper published false information about them.
I’m sure the Bloom family is angry at the disease — the same way my family was angry at it years ago. But no matter how much we hate dementia, there’s nothing we can do to save our loved ones from it.
Looking back at having witnessed how the memories of someone with dementia can be muddled, my compassion and understanding for people like Bloom and his family has increased.
Maybe one day there might be a cure for dementia, so families can enjoy spending time with loved ones whose memories are still intact.
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks