The third experience was with my cousin, Ron, a capable journalist who enjoyed a good reputation both in his newspaper group and in professional circles. He covered business news and was as diligent as knowledgeable about emerging commercial trends. When I didn’t hear from him for two months, I thought it was unusual and went to see him. A voluble man he had suddenly turned very taciturn, and he responded to all my overtures with monosyllables. His brother referred to it as ‘a streak of depression,’ but after he was taken to a specialist at my insistence, it was diagnosed as the onset of dementia.
Imagine this insidious blight attacking your father, mother, brother or sister (women seem statistically more vulnerable) – or yourself. Day by painful day, it will shrink and atrophy your brain tissue. The first thing to go will be your memory: you will start by forgetting little things and end up by failing to recognize your wife and your own face. You will lose money and valuables; then you will get lost yourself, because you can’t find your own home. Then you will start losing your mental functions, those that make you human. You will lose your language, reasoning capacity, any kind of systematic thinking. You will forfeit the ability to do any step-by-step thing, like dressing or feeding yourself, and become fully dependent on others. Then will come hallucinations, delusions and paranoia, resulting in impulsive and offensive behavior. The ultimate stage is when you are confined to bed as your body starts shutting down.
It may be a little better than chaining your mother or brother in a back room or adhere to the vulgar fiction that they are possessed by a malevolent devil.