Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's the little things that keep me smiling

From my last visit:

"How are you, Dad?"

"Good. And now that you're here, even better."

With all the things that an Alzheimer's brain forgets or can't wrap itself around, sometimes it amazes me what it does get. Memory Care units are lock-down units because dementia patients tend to be wanderers. At Dad's place, there are keypads at the two main doors into his unit.

As our visit was coming to a close, I remarked to Dad that I had to stop at the bank on my way home.

"You know your way out of here?" he asked anxiously, worried that I might get lost (as he does).

"Yep, I sure do, Dad. I know everything I need to know."

He looked at me in wonder.

"You even know how to punch the thing?"

I had to laugh. I didn't even know he was aware of the keypads.

And I think, for a tiny moment, he had visions of me breaking him out of the joint. ;)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Alzheimer's: Road closed ahead

When a loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, one of the hardest things for families to adjust to is how the brain can work fine one day (or one hour, or one minute), but be totally off the next. It feeds right into our human tendency to want to deny the disease: "How can he have Alzheimer's? Look, he just fixed the broken dishwasher!"

But, if you consider the nature of the disease, this is pretty normal behavior for a brain with Alzheimer's. This is a simplification, but think of your brain as a super highway, with many, many roads feeding off of it. You can get anywhere you want to go, any time you want.

Now, think of Alzheimer's as a road-work crew. (This not hard for those of us living in Pennsylvania. There's an old joke that says we have two seasons: winter and construction.) Each day the crew closes down several roads, but doesn't open any new ones in their place.

For a while, you can still find your way around. It may take you longer, but you will reach your destination at some point.

This is early-stage Alzheimer's.

After a while, though, it begins to get harder and harder to find new pathways. You meander around, back up, turn around, drive in endless circles, have a few fender benders...until you finally find a route you can take.

Or not. Eventually, it's no longer possible to get from Point A to Point B.

This is late-stage Alzheimer's.

And in-between? There are a lot of hits and misses. And as the disease progresses, of course, the latter becomes the norm.

So the next time you feel yourself becoming frustrated because yesterday Dad could feed himself, but today he won't, or yesterday he could brush his teeth, but today he can't, remind yourself of this: through no fault of his own, someone closed the road he was on, and he can't find his way back.

Be the Inn at the side of the road and give him care, comfort, and a place to come in out of the dark.

He doesn't like being lost. Would you?

Laughter and Tears: The Way of Alzheimer's

Dad was his usual funny (see the earlier post) and charming self when I visited yesterday. Half way through my visit, he asked me, "What are you doing here?"

"I came to see you," I said. "I always come to see you."

"Yeah?" He smiled. "That's good to hear."

And he didn't pass up an opportunity (he never does *grin*) to have his picture taken with a pretty lady.

Dad and Lori, the Director of the home
where Dad lives.
I enjoy sharing these funny and charming moments with you. They warm my heart, and I hope they do yours, as well. But along with the good, I have to share the bad. This is, after all, an Alzheimer's journey, and I don't want anyone to forget for a moment that my Dad (and many, many others like him) is fighting a losing battle with a horrific disease.

I tell people that I'm always exhausted after a visit with my Dad. Part of the  reason is that it takes so much energy to stay focused on his speech, to try to understand him enough to have a conversation with him. Communication is a basic human need, but it's getting harder and harder for Dad to find the words and to know how to use them. But we try. God, how we try.

The saddest part is, though, that very often he is aware of how bad his speech and thinking have gotten. That seems the cruelest thing of all, and it breaks my heart.

At the end of my visit, he said, "Well, I enjoyed our talk."

Me, too, Dad. Me, too.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why do you sound like Jack Benny and what have done with my father?

So, it's lunch time, and Dad's lovely aide says to him, "Harold, would you like a drink?"

And Dad says, "No thanks. I hardly ever touch the hard stuff."

We're here all week, folks. Next show at 11. ;)

Dad and Kristin

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Twelve, Going on 81

I reminded Dad on Friday that his birthday is next week.

"Do you know how old you're going to be?" I asked him.

"Haven't a clue," he said.

"You're going to be 81."

He looked at me with raised eyebrows. "How old?"


He shook his head again. "I don't feel 81."
We were having a bit of a bad hair day. ;)

"How old do you feel?" I asked him.

"I don't feel a day over twelve," he said.

 "Twelve?" I said, laughing. "Twelve?"

"Okay, how about thirty," Dad said, winking at me. "I don't feel a day over 30."

"Thirty I'll give you," I said. "But you can't be twelve because that would mean I wouldn't exist, right?"

He thought about that.

"Can't have that," he said, finally. "Nope, can't have that."