When My Husband Was Diagnosed With Frontotemporal Dementia
I have waited so long to write about this that the fire within has settled. I am prepared for the long haul, but also, not prepared at all. How do we prepare for the emotional, mental and physical challenges to come? This is not a situation that we ever could have imagined. We have been slowly adjusting, but it is still surreal. My 52-year-old husband, my intelligent, loving, funny, thoughtful husband, has frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
Looking back, symptoms may have been presenting as early as 2012. What we originally thought was depression was probably the beginnings of this awful disease. By 2015, it had progressed into difficulty with word recall and minor memory issues. His doctor tested for every possible medical cause, and eventually sent him to a neurophysiologist. Three years ago this fall, that specialist told us that my 49-year-old husband may have early onset dementia.
It was hard to believe it was possible, but in the back of my mind, I knew it was true. He had been forgetting things I told him more than usual, and he had seemed a bit “off” for a while. The tests showed he had a very high intelligence level, but his cognitive abilities were not matching up. By fall 2016, he had further testing at a memory clinic, and we were told that there was a high probability it was FTD. He is being treated accordingly, but there is no cure.
In the last three years, we have been making as many memories as possible. We have traveled to Europe, Africa and South America. One summer, we took a minor league baseball road trip in honor of his favorite movie, “Bull Durham.” We stopped and visited with many friends along the way, friends we hadn’t seen in up to 25 years. We took a weekend trip to see one of his favorite football teams, the Kansas City Chiefs. We are living out our retirement dreams before we can’t anymore.
Two years ago, he went on disability from work. It was not in his plans. A disease he has no control over makes him feel like less of a man. He thinks he cannot take care of his family like he used to, but he has no idea how much he does. He goes to yoga most days, and I go with him three to four times a week. We were told it might help slow the progression of the disease. It has, and along the way it has also helped me to get in shape and strengthen, both mentally and physically. He grows a vegetable garden in the summer, and with his green thumb, we have an abundance of fruits and vegetables. He has taken up much of the family cooking and baking, making me look like a amateur after almost 30 years of marriage.
There are many ways to try to slow the disease. Memory games, puzzles, exercise and small motor skill activities are a few. We will do anything to get as much time as we can, so he tries them all. He taught himself to knit last December, and by January he had made each of the kids a scarf– intricate scarves with difficult stitches that look amazing! By March, he had finished a multiple panel afghan, and by May he had made me a varsity-style hooded sweater that looks like it was crafted by a professional. Last week he started knitting me socks. He has set the bar so high, I’m hesitant to even try to learn.
Unfortunately, he can’t do everything he used to. Over time, he loses the ability. We have seen these changes. They are happening slowly, but they are still happening. We might be able to slow the roll, but we cannot stop it. There is one thing we won’t let it do though, and that is bring us down without a fight.
FTD has brought us to a place we never thought we’d be. We have lost, and we have gained. It is a blessing and a curse, all at once. We are experiencing retirement in our fifties. We have been blessed to travel around the world. It is all temporary though. One day, and we have no idea when, we will be living a nightmare.