|Dad, with Tracey, his Hospice Nurse|
My father is now in Severe or Late-Stage Alzheimer's disease -- the last and final stage before the "end stage" -- according to his doctor and the hospice nurse in charge of his hospice care.
On the one hand, Sis and I knew this. It would be hard *not* to know when we see the decline on a weekly basis. Dad can no longer feed himself: not only can he not remember what utensils are for, he often has trouble coordinating his hand to get the food/drink to his mouth. His appetite, always so healthy, has seen a marked decline. He can't walk unassisted, and even then he is in danger of falling. He falls...a lot.
On the other hand, it's hard to hear it confirmed because last stage is, well, last stage.
Dad could last months or years in this final phase. No one can say for certain. His decline seems fairly rapid these last few months, though, which creates an awful sense of foreboding. Every time we go to visit with him, we wonder,"How much worse will he be today?" Every time the phone rings we wonder,"Has he fallen again? Or is it something much worse?" (I was the one who got the phone call when my Mom passed away. My heart skips a beat or three every time I see by caller ID that Dad's residence is calling.)
The toll this takes on family is incredible. It's a day-to-day struggle not to be overwhelmed by grief, not to be swallowed up whole by the sense of helplessness you feel. It's a struggle to be upbeat and happy when visiting your loved one. When I leave Dad after a visit, I can tell you that the desire to sleep for hours afterwards is always present because it's such a draining experience.
Still, you go on. We feed Dad his lunch when we visit. We try to converse, but mostly these days he wants to sleep. (We spend a lot of time watching him sleep, especially now while they are still adjusting his meds for the behavior problems I mentioned in an earlier post.) We hold his hand, kiss his forehead. Tell him we are near.
Minute by minute, hour by hour, you do the best you can.
And you hope and pray that it's enough.