Alzheimer's / Dementia

6/1/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

Writer Terri L. Jones describes the heart-wrenching experience of watching the last two seasons of the popular NBC drama, “This Is Us.” As Rebecca and the family struggle with her Alzheimer’s disease, Jones feels each episode striking close to home.

My dad had a stroke three years ago and was diagnosed with vascular dementia not long after. He doesn’t drive anymore and hasn’t gone fishing, his greatest passion, in a few years. He needs help with all his meals, his medications, and putting on a seatbelt. He can’t be left alone for more than an hour or so.

While I’ve loved the series “This Is Us” for the past six years, the last two seasons have been painful to watch because the storyline is so familiar and feels like a portent of things to come for us.

Anxiety overload

A montage of images from "This Is Us." Screenshot from the official web pages of NBC's "This Is Us," https://www.nbc.com/this-is-us. For writer Terri L. Jones and other families struggling with Alzheimer’s, the last two seasons of “This Is Us” strike painfully close to home.
From https://www.nbc.com/this-is-us

The first episode that struck a chord with me was when Rebecca lost her phone. My dad loses everything – his cane, his hearing aids, and even his dentures, but that’s not why this episode felt so familiar. Instead, it was the anxiety that this situation caused Rebecca.

Last year, my stepmom, Linda, went grocery shopping and left my father at home (this was in the days when he was still staying home by himself). At a certain point, he felt she had been gone for too long and tried to call her, but he couldn’t remember how to use the home phone. By the time she returned home, his anxiety had spiraled out of control, and he hurled this anxiety back at my stepmother, whose only crime was to leave the house.

In the moments when my father feels unable to do the things he used to do or to have lost his place of authority in the family, he can quickly become full of rage. My stepmother works hard to avoid these situations, but when they do happen, my father’s wrath can leave a mark on all those in its path.

Related: Disinhibited behaviors in people with dementia

Two lives lost

Since my father was diagnosed with dementia, Linda’s life has been filled – from morning to night – with caring for him. She’s been forced to pause the rest of her life, no longer shopping for fun and rarely going out to dinner with friends. Like Miguel on “This Is Us,” she’s even swept some of her own health concerns under the rug.

Rebecca told her children that she didn’t want them to make their lives smaller because of her. Essentially, I believe my father feels the same way; however, we all have adjusted our lives to some degree in response to his disease. My husband and I moved an hour away, so I can visit them once a week and be there when Linda needs a break. My nephew, who doesn’t have a fulltime job, comes for weeks at a time to help with yardwork and other chores and just spend time with his Mee-Mee and PawPaw. My sister and her family call and visit often. They even booked a weekend getaway for the family just an hour away from my dad and stepmom in case he needed to go home early, which he did. But all this support only goes so far to lighten my stepmom’s load.

In sickness and in health

My sister and I have talked to Linda about bringing in help or moving to a retirement community. But she is resistant.

We’ve explained to Linda, as the Pearson kids told Miguel, “We’re not doing this ‘to’ you; we’re doing this ‘for’ you.” But Linda insists she is exactly where she wants to be – caring for my father. Just as Miguel expressed, Linda wants to be the first face my dad sees in the morning and the last one he sees at night. After several traumatic stays in the hospital, where he has become extremely delusional, my stepmother knows that strangers around my father would only exacerbate his condition.

Related: Tips for families on caregiving for those with dementia

Prepared for what’s to come

I fear the day when my father doesn’t recognize me, is unable to get around on his own or can’t communicate with us. But what really terrifies me – if I am being completely honest – is exactly what happened in “This Is Us.” While we hope that my stepmother will remain healthy enough to care for my father for whatever time he has left (because that is her greatest wish), the fact of the matter is that she might not.

Watching “This Is Us” has made me realize that we can’t always just take one day at a time. We must be prepared for what’s to come. Our parents were always there for us. Now it’s our turn to be there for them.

Images taken as screenshots from the official NBC web pages of “This Is Us.”

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide. She also writes for many other local magazines and publications.

Terri Jones