Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Family and Mental Illness (Part 3): The Diagnosis

Sheldon's note: This is a continuing series about my family's struggles surrounding my father's mental health issues when I was a teen. If you haven't already read the previous posts in this series, please read (post 1) and (post 2) before preceding any farther in reading this post.

Several weeks had passed since the day that my father had walked off the premises off the job that he loved as a mechanic, the next day, my mom in desperation, had set up an appointment with the doctor who was treated my father for sleep apnea. This doctor, in addition to running an office where he ran sleep studies that are necessary to be done before someone is fitted with a CPAP or BPAP machine to treat sleep apnea, was also a neurologist.

Because of both the fact that he was a neurologist, and out of all of the doctors they had, he was the one who would listen to her the most. If anyone could help find out what's going, and what to do, he would be the man. Even though she didn't enjoy traffic in St. Louis, she drove us out to his office inside the historic Chase Park Plaza building.

She frantically tried to explain to him what had been happening recently, and she tearfully told him that she was scared that he was starting to develop Alzheimer's. She had taken care of her father for nearly 7 years until his death from complications of Alzheimer's

She was convinced that she was seeing many of the same signs as when her father was in the early stages. This really got the doctor's attention, and he said that he was doubtful that anything would likely show up on brain scans such as MRI's, but there was an extensive physiological test that could be done that would show the effects of most mental disorders as well as brain injury/damage from a stroke (I have long since forgotten what the name of it was).

It consisted of over 8 hours of interviews with psychiatrists, tasks meant to show mental ability, or motor coordination, and an IQ test. The only catch was that it was around $800 to have it done, and most insurance companies wouldn't cover it.

My mom didn't have to think this over very much, she desperately wanted answers, and wanted to know if there was anything that could be done for him. We had the money for pay for it, as I said in (post 1), she had been saving up money, and since that fateful day, we had to cash in his 401k to have enough money to live on for a while.

She returned with him later for the testing, and then returned about a week later for the doctor's appointment, to find out the test results. I went with them to the appointment, and waited outside in the waiting room for them to come out.

My dad seemed rather depressed (his mind had started to clear up some in the weeks since he left his job, he knew enough to understand what the doctor had told him), and my mom just seemed emotionally numb and lifeless, like she was a walking shell of herself, functioning mentally, but without any emotions, despite the fact that her eyes were red from crying for some time (they had been talking to the doctor for at least 30 minutes.

She said what the diagnosis was: Dementia.

It hit me so hard, it's strange how until you get into these situations how you don't realize just how much power one simple word can have. I was puzzled, what did this really mean? I wanted to know more before I reacted. What came to mind for me when I heard this word was the only context I heard it in, elderly people slowly dying as their mind breaks down.

Did this mean he was dying? It was hard enough to feel like everything he was, everything about his personality and who he was has disappeared, for him to become the father that I no longer knew, but was he going to die physically as well? How I was going to hold up through all of this? Would it just be me and my mom, alone in this world?

To be continued in post 4


  1. I can't imagine how hard that news must have hit you and your mother. I didn't realize that dementia could hit someone so early in life. Did they find out what the underlying cause of the dementia was?

    1. Oh yea, even Alzheimer's hits young 20s can get alzheimers...which is usually progresses even faster than the elderly. My grandma has alzheimers, so she's been taking a lot of courses on it.

    2. crap, my mom has been taking classes, I mean.

    3. Hi, everyone, link is now up in this post to post 4, which explains it more.

  2. yea same question as Ahab. What was causing hte dementia? Where they able to fix the issue?

  3. That's a common misconception that only elderly people can get dementia. Mental health is a serious thing and our medical community and social nets tend to treat or prevent only bodily functions and ignore the health of the brain.

    1. I agree, CA, so many people understand diseases like cancer, have little understand of mental illness, or even try to deny it's existence.


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