Dementia? Brain Damage? What’s the Difference?

My father is growing old.  We’ve said he has dementia, but the true story is a little tougher to deal with…

At 16 my dad wrecked a motorcycle.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a helmet on, not even sure helmets existed yet – and I’m sure they weren’t common.  The story I’ve heard is that my Uncle Tom saw him wreck and ran to get the car.  He then drove him to the hospital, where it was expected my dad would not survive.  Dad had brain swelling (this was the 50s!)  and I’m sure the drs said there wasn’t anything they could do for him.  Amazingly my father survived though.  He was in such bad shape that my grandfather, being a widower farmer couldn’t take care of him, so my dad was sent to live with my Aunt Dorothy.  (She’s fairly colorful, so there are lots of stories there too)  I should mention the year I was born my father wrecked a convertible Corvette – TOTALED.  He was with my cousins Joellyn and Judy and they only survived by being thrown from the car.  It rolled over…. Luckily no head trauma then though.

My dad went on with headaches and more, growing up to be a farmer himself (and having me and my brother).  Not fond of medical care, my dad didn’t see a doctor for years.  I do remember a kidney stone when I was in grade school where my mother had to take him to the ER, but other than that, NADA.  Then finally a few years back my father has a seizure and they find his blood pressure is sky high. Not only that, but his blood pressure has been sky high for quite a while.  (High blood pressure can cause capillaries in the brain to burst) My father’s blood pressure had went on so long it had caused damage!

My dad is convinced that people die in hospitals, which leads him to try to escape every time he’s in one….  This has led to him removing his own IV and being found in other people’s rooms a few times and the inevitable calls asking everyone to come and take him home….  BUT at that time the drs thought they had gotten it under control.

Skip forward a few years and my dad has a stroke (they run in our family).  The doctors had a really hard time with the stroke due to the mass of brain damage (see the motorcycle wreck mentioned above), but finally they decided it was a stroke.  Since then he has had a couple as well as his heart valve replaced (because it was leaky?).

So when we look at my dad and know he can’t remember, or is having a bad day – how do you decide.. Does he have dementia or brain damage?  My thought is that dementia steadily gets worse where as brain damage (if the underlying conditions are treated) will  not get worse unless there is more damage to the tissue.

Even knowing all this, really knowing the cause in this case is just knowledge.  Does it help with his treatment?  Would it change anything?

I think my answer is yes it does change a little, I have his genes.  I need to decide whether I check off Alzheimer and dementia in my close family history.  No one else in my direct line had dementia, so does my dad or is it brain damage?  Is it my future?

I thin on my family tree medical conditions is something I need to start adding.  I think I should add not just COD (Cause of Death) but also major chronic illnesses.  My father also has Padget’s disease. I know that is hereditary!  It’s something I need to watch out for just in case I received those genes.

Do you track medical conditions in your family tree?