A Mind is A Terrible Thing To Lose

Our Uncle Henry is 92. Up until about a year ago he was doing pretty well, a pain here, a pain there, but overall things were pretty good. Recently things have become more challenging with his moods, and for our Aunt, who is 90 but you’d never know it, life has become difficult. Their sons felt an evaluation should be made to determine the cause of his anxiety and erratic moods, and it would have to be done within a hospital setting. A psychiatric hospital. I think in some ways Uncle Henry was relieved to know they would “get to the bottom of it” he just didn’t expect it to mean he would be there for a week already, and possibly many more.

My husband and I went to visit him today. The hospital grounds were beautiful and the hallways eerily quiet and empty. We were buzzed into the unit and opposite the front desk sat about 12 people lined up in chairs, including Uncle Henry. I found it rather disconcerting, no one was doing anything, there was no TV in that area, there were no conversations going on. Everyone was just sitting. Uncle Henry saw us and called out hello, and the nurse wheeled us over to an area with tables and chairs looking out onto the grounds. He told us some of his aches and pains had improved, but then began to launch into how the place was like a prison and other complaints, some we determined to be real, some imagined. Upsetting to know that his reality was not reality- that what he was was saying was irrational and not real, but to him was very much so. We spent two hours with him during which we made an attempt to validate his feelings, and to try to steer him to a better place of understanding. He asked our Aunt when she arrived if he was allowed to tell the Doctors he wanted to leave – and would they let him, or would he be held against his will.  The truth is he could leave at anytime, but until the medication they are working to adjust to help him, begins to work, it is not a good idea. His frustration and unhappiness understandable at hearing that, but his inability to really grasp it upsetting.

My Aunt and Uncle have been married over 70 years, and it is heartbreaking for her to see him like this, to have him ask to leave but know she must go home alone. Hardest is seeing him lucid and understanding and then crossing into his own reality and not understanding. The quote attributed to Bette Davis  “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” came to mind today. It takes strength and will and sometimes giving in and going along with what is beyond our control to “fix,”  as we grow older.

21 thoughts on “A Mind is A Terrible Thing To Lose

  1. This somewhat reminds me of my Mom except the place is an amazing place, just lovely inside and has stations around the circular hall way. One is an art center with an easel, paints, a table with crayons, colored pencils and paper, coloring books. Another is a costume and makeup, there’s a really cool old office equipment like a rotary phone, Corona typewriter, . . . She eats with the same three ladies and the staff all have been there for the 4 years it has been built. I hope all is well once they determine the cause of your Uncle Henry. It is such a relief once you find the best place for someone special to live. Mom’s is a memory care, one story place.
    This Spring she likes to go outside, using a sliding glass or screen door into a beautiful gardening center. Raised beds and paths, tools, water and hose with watering cans. . . Hope Uncle Henry’s memory loss is a UTI or other health issue is fixable! 🙂 🙂

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  2. That quote about old age not being for sissies is so true. The challenges are real and more demanding as time goes on.
    Sometimes I think old age is both a blessing and a curse. The confusion and frustration that sets in is heart breaking. My best wishes to you and your family.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. Mental health affects all, the patient and their family. I hope his care team finds an approach (meds/therapy) that works for him soon. sending positive thought to your Uncle and family

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  4. It’s a terrible place to be, Lisa. Not the hospital, but this place in life where nothing makes sense. People speak about living to an old age but there is a difference between living and being alive. It’s so very sad and so hard to watch. My prayers for all of you.

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  5. They had a long life together, that’s something so many of us wish for but are not allowed to have. I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be for your aunt. I am glad she has a loving family around her.

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  6. I am so sorry that your family is going through a tough time. It is so hard to watch who were once so strong and capable become so vulnerable. I do hope your uncle is allowed home soon.

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