Lately there's been a lot of talk in my family about an older relative who is well into her nineties and beginning to show signs of dementia. She's always been independent and strong, but increasingly, she needs help with day to day life, which gets doubly frustrating when she can't remember what's happened ten minutes earlier.
I'm not getting involved in the debates over what kind of support to set up as I haven't seen this relative for many years and I'm not involved in the day to day management. But in listening to the people who are, something struck me.
The issues they're talking about are similar to the ones I'm dealing with. If someone takes her out, she will wander off (her mobility hasn't been impaired, so she's quite quick) but can't remember what city she's in. She needs clearly visible schedules to remember what's going to happen in a given day or else she gets flustered and upset. Caring for her has become like caring for a special needs child, it doesn't matter what you think she "should" be able to do, instead you have to concentrate on what she can actually do and make accommodations.
It makes me wonder if the recent increase and understanding of how to deal with autism could have longer reaching effects than we realize. Perhaps many of the techniques we use to help children with autism cope with daily life could be used to help the elderly or those with Alzheimer's. I honestly don't know enough to say whether or not this is an insight or completely misses the point, but it has got me thinking.
It's also got me thinking about what could potentially happen as Alex gets older. Dementia does run in some family branches, so what will happen if he loses his mental faculties as he gets older. Given the already challenging situation, it could make finding someone or somewhere to take care of him nearly impossible.
It's a long time in the future and I refuse to borrow trouble, but it's one more brooding point to add to the list.