Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Conversation

All conversations are converted in one way or another when dementia or Alzheimer's get involved.  It can make the reasonably sane question their own sanity.  Here's an easy one (chats can get very complicated and frustrating for all concerned).  It's best if caretakers remember to keep a sense of humor if they plan to make it through the day...

Dad: When is the Super Bowl on?

Me: I don't know, I don't follow sports.  Maybe soon because they keep talking about it.

Dad: Oh, okay.

Less than 3 minutes pass.

Dad: You asked when the Super Bowl is on ..

Me (not thinking to just listen): No, you asked me when it was on.

Dad: What?

Me: You asked me, I didn't ask you.  I told you I didn't know when.

Dad: Oh, I must have heard wrong then.  (He walks away with a puzzled look on his face.)

There's no use in trying to explain, it would only make the confusion worse.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


My father has dementia, which I believe has progressed far enough to be on the verge of Alzheimer’s or has him in the first stage.  Or maybe even the second.  Mmm…sometimes the third.  He’s been tested twice, but each time he was examined was a good day and he missed only one question.  Diagnosis: No Alzheimer’s.  

He saw what my mother went through, so he gets angry when I suggest he should ask to be tested again and prescribed medication that can slow the progress of the monster, if he should have the disease.  What is happening in his brain can make things very odd here.  But he’s in denial, refusing to believe there is much of anything wrong with him.  “The only thing wrong,” he says, “is that I’m beginning to get old.”  

The man is 93.  We’re a bit past the “getting” phase. 

At first he had the same problem we all have as we age and try to bring something from our brains to our tongues.  A mind filled with years of experiences to filter is going to be slower than it once was, there is a lot of chaff to sift through.  But actual memory loss has begun and now words are being forgotten.  He’s also having a lot of trouble connecting family relationships, forgetting names and which child belongs to which member of our clan.  

There are also some major errors in judgment that could lead to his falling and being seriously injured or the house being burned to the ground.  And the worst that could possibly happen to a man who took pride in his checkbook always being balanced to the penny can no longer balance his checkbook, it has become too confusing.  

Those are the preliminaries; these are the oddities, annoyances, and the unexplainable to all but him. Like some newborn babies, his days and nights are reversed—he sleeps most of the day away and is up and active into the wee hours.

Activity began at 10:30pm tonight.  My husband is sound asleep, so he can be up extra early for a work meeting.  It’s quiet in the house, no TV playing.

SLAM     SLAM     SLAM   BANG.  I rush in to ask what he’s doing since this is excessive noise, it’s usually just Slam Bang Bump and over. Tonight he has a project, his dictionary is losing the back cover.  He has placed shipping tape along the broken seam and is attempting to make the tape permanent by pounding staples into it.

The quicker, louder slamming and banging other nights are from a quirk he’s developed—he contributes $5-$10 to just about every charity that sends him a begging letter, so he receives a lot of mail, asking for more.  All that excess paper has to be dealt with once it has been opened…it can be recycled to help save the planet.  (Good on you, Dad!  But couldn’t you save the world during the day?)  

When he’s ready to discard the letters and envelopes, he goes through a late night ritual:
·         His name must be blacked out wherever it’s printed, to avoid identity theft.  So there is a distinctive thump thump thumping of his black ink stamp;
·         All letters and small envelopes are carefully placed inside larger envelopes;
·         All stuffed envelopes are meticulously sealed with exactly 3 staples, pounded in with force to make certain they don’t come loose;
·         Every bulging container must have RECYCLED written across the front.
·         Finally, these packages are brought out to the kitchen island, where they are placed neatly in a pile, close to the garage door, so my husband can put them in the recycle bin in the morning.

After he has been reminded that he’s waking the dead with all the noise, he apologizes…and goes right back to what he was doing.  Then it’s time for him to turn on his computer, sound turned to maximum so he can hear it, and listen to an hour of a TV serial that Netflix Instant offers and he has become addicted to.

He’s not being inconsiderate, he’s just living in his own little world.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Flood

We brought my parents to live with us after their house was seriously damaged by flooding in 2006.  At the ages of 85, to be rescued and evacuated by boat was a traumatic experience for them.  Then, moving from an evacuation center to a relative’s house to another relative’s home caused more distress and confusion. They didn’t understand why they couldn’t go home once the water had receded.

The force of the river’s devastating flow filled their basement with muddy, polluted water by pushing a gaping hole beside and beneath their front steps.  The concrete stairs twisted and leaned to one side; the silty soil around the foundation washed away, leaving a wide gap along the front and one side of the house, exposing the cinder block, weakening the structure.  The living room wall developed a deep crack the length of one corner and a fairly minor one in another, with smaller cracks webbing the corners on one side of the dining room. 

Because the house was still standing, Dad was certain repairs could be made and they could eventually move back in, he would get a small apartment for them until the work was finished.  “After all,” he said, “the water only came up to the floor joists in the basement, it didn’t get into the first and second floor.  All our things are okay, except for what’s lost in the basement.”

They had never taken out flood insurance because the river hadn’t overflowed that drastically before.  At their ages, there was no way they could afford to repair the damages and move back in, even if it had been feasible.  It was obvious they needed a new home, where they could be looked after.  We convinced him that they needed to move in with us.  He grudgingly agreed, after changing his mind every few hours.

Mom’s Alzheimer’s was too far advanced for her to understand what was happening, so Dad made most decisions on what should be brought with them.  Unfortunately, he wanted all 47 year’s accumulation to be driven the 1,000 miles.  Unfortunately, again, our house has its own years of accrual and only a little more could be crammed into our living space, after stuffing much in the attic.  I gave a majority of their furniture to relatives and neighbors who wanted or needed them, bringing only their bedroom suite, clothing, necessary personal items, documents, and a few things I thought would make their transition a bit easier.  That little bit still filled a moving van to the brim.

After spending several very long days sorting and packing treasures and junk, much of it was stolen from the padlocked van the night before we were to leave.  A kind of blessing for me, who had to make room for all of it, but another “unfortunately” for Dad.

Anguish and angry seething vividly colored the trip to their new home.