My Dad was diagnosed with ‘alcohol dementia’ in 2011, aged 68 years old. I didn’t even know such a disease existed at the time but it made sense… He’s been a drinker his whole life and in the years leading up to his diagnosis his memory had gotten progressively, and noticeably worse. As his health deteriorated he became physically and mentally unable to work, which, I think sent him into a depression and, in turn made him drink more. It all culminated one horrible night when I found him collapsed in his room, surrounded by empty bottles, drunk, bleeding and confused. It was really hard to know where to turn. He refused help, but it was time for intervention.
I can’t thank the family, friends and professionals enough for the support they gave him during that period. It was one thing after another and I honestly felt it would never end. He had a business in tatters, nowhere to live, lost his independence, his dignity and (worst of all) his mental health problems had changed his personality dramatically. It was upsetting to watch and the most stressful thing I’ve ever experienced. But gradually, with the support of some amazing people, things began to improve. He (very reluctantly) retired. We found him a flat in supported living. His animals were re-homed and he got treatment for the dementia and depression that had gripped him.
Now, 7 years on and he’s doing really well. He still struggles with his memory but he’s independent, healthy and safe. He drinks (but less than he used to) and in a controlled environment within a community of people who care about him. He enjoys dog walking with his mate Chris and he likes going to the pub. He reads the (same) newspaper every day (Good thing about memory loss I guess is that theres no such thing as “old news”) He feeds the birds, and helps other people out in his building with jobs. (Or so he tells me. That could well be the drink or dementia talking!)
Initially I tried to stop his drinking altogether but it didn’t work. Then I tried to control it and that didn’t work either. You see, dementia and alcoholism work against each other; even if he chose to stop drinking, he’d forget 5 minutes later and pick up a can of lager again…. And, alcoholic dementia is (obviously) directly linked to drinking. The more he drinks the worse it gets. It’s a vicious cycle.
In the end, I decided ‘He likes a drink so why stop him now’? He’s happy and that’s the main thing in life. He’s safe and, if anything, over the years I think his memory has actually gotten better! (Again thanks to the intervention and support he’s had) Alcohol dementia is unique. It produces the same horrible symptoms as other types of Alzheimer’s, but, unlike other forms of the disease it can improve if alcohol intake is controlled, moderated or stopped.
These days I look after my Dad, visiting him 2-3 times a week, doing his shopping and cleaning etc. It’s become a routine, which I think is the best thing for anyone with dementia. I enjoy going to see him because he is good company. He talks to me about music, the universe and politics. He’s knowledgable. He has quite literally forgotten more than ill ever know.
So I think I’ve learned a few things from this experience which will stick with me forever, and so, (as my blog is all about sharing experiences) heres what I’ve learned;
1) Who the hell knew alcohol can cause brain damage?? We all know the risks to the liver, but nobody ever talks about alcohol dementia. Like all mental health issues maybe there’s a stigma with it? So if this post only raises awareness and breaks down the stigma that’s a start.
2) The best thing you can have in life is friends. My Dad, in his day had been a successful businessman. He worked hard and earned a good living. Before his diagnosis his business was failing, he blew an obscene amount of money on drink and was left with next to nothing. But actually, no amount of money would have saved him. He was (and still is) first and foremost a “people person”. And that’s priceless. Money is nice but friends, family and happiness is more important. The best investment you can make is in people. Because good friends will always be there when you need them.
3) He is ALWAYS happy. I never see him complain about anything. Ever. And I find that really refreshing. He is kind, knowledgable and very funny. He can laugh at himself, despite all the troubles. Thats a life goal.
Its worth mentioning, Im not preaching here; I probably drink too much myself and I complain about silly things that don’t matter. I get depressed, like everyone does at times. Everyone has got their own battle going on.
Talk to each other. Look after each other. Be happy.
Thanks for reading.