Donna Brazee

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Donna Brazee is 66 years old and was officially diagnosed with dementia 12 years ago. When I spoke with Donna and Ed, her husband of 47 years, she told me, “It was a few years before that; it took them that long to figure out what was wrong.” She had seen a local neurologist and received cognitive testing and discussed her family history of Alzheimer’s disease. Exasperated, Donna exclaimed, “We went all the way to Boston, and the doctor never even looked at any of my scans or my memory testing. I even asked them, ‘You’re not going to look at the scans?  You’re not going to read the report?  It clearly states that in a year I’ve gone downhill.’  ‘No, I don’t need to,” he said.  ‘It’s just menopause and stress.’” 

 

I asked Donna what happened to cause concern and start her journey to a diagnosis, and she said, “I started having problems with my memory at work. Not being able to learn new things. I would have to type-up or prepare reports for senior management and the last 6 months before they practically booted me out, I started making little mistakes. I would review them a few times just to make sure they were right – in my mind at least. And then I would get a call from my boss saying ‘that’s not right. You need to fix it.’ Slowly, they started taking bits and pieces of my job away. The writing was on the wall, and I said, well, before they boot me out, I’m going to get what’s entitled to me, and I’m just going to have to leave.  The doctors had told me a year prior to that, that I needed to either leave altogether or just do part-time, and I told them, after being in that company for 20+ years, I knew what they’d done to people that had issues, because they gave me a hard time a few years prior when things were starting to happen.  I just talked to my boss and said, ‘I have to go out on disability.’ And he just said to me, ‘Well, I knew something was wrong.’ So instead of wanting to help me and give me something part-time, he just agreed, and I said, ‘Well, I can stay on for the two weeks,’ and he said, ‘No, I prefer you leave tomorrow.’  So that’s what happened.”

 

I asked Ed if people had been supportive. And he replied, “Most people treat you fine, except a lot of people don’t understand.” He paused, looked at Donna and added, “Sometimes me, but it’s hard living with somebody like that.” Donna quietly interrupted and said, “And I realize that. That’s the hardest part.” 

 

I asked, “What would you tell recently diagnosed people to think about that might be helpful?”

 

Donna told me, “I would tell people to get the support that you can. Seek out the help and not be afraid to ask for it. For him, that’s my biggest thing.  I don’t want him to feel all alone, because he’s not close with the kids, and I know there’s going to come a time it’s going to be very hard for him, and he’s not one for asking for help, and I want him to know that there’s people out there that can.”

 

I asked, “Do you feel stigmatized? “ and Donna replied, “I think the biggest thing for me when I was first diagnosed and people knew about it, ‘Well, you don’t look like you have dementia,’ and it took me a very long time to just ignore that and not say something to them like, ‘What does dementia look like!?’

 

“I just would like people to know that when they know someone that’s having a problem, but they can’t really pinpoint it, to treat us with respect and compassion and be sensitive to whatever is going on and not just judge us.”

Beginning at the End:
Portraits of Dementia by Joe Wallace

© 2020 Joe Wallace

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