Wednesday, August 10, 2011

From Sally


My name is Sally.  My dad is 83 and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's for more than ten years.  Mom and I were just talking yesterday about when he was officially diagnosed. Isn't it funny how we can't remember that?  I do remember Mom calling me, panicked, that he had received the news. She was so upset.  I was not.  Probably because I did not really know what was in store.  Now I do.  

My dad was a social worker.  He loved to meet people and hear their stories.  You know how so many will interrupt you to tell you about themselves?  Dad never did that.  He always asked MORE questions about you.  He was an avid biker and sailor and camper and skiier.  He would work in the backyard until after dark.  He was always working on a project.  He was brave.  

Now, he sees a bicyclist on the road and will say, "that is crazy."  I prod his memory and tell him how he and I used to bike 25 miles to raise money for the Recycle Center and how he organized an overnight bike trip for my Girl Scout troop and he says, "I don't remember."  I talk to him about how we camped along streams in the Rockies and saw moose, and he stares at me blankly; he does not remember.  I point out sailboats on the pond.  He does not remember.  I tell him we skiied the bumps in Colorado and played board games at night afterwards.

I had to make him get off his chair this winter to go for walks. It was a long, cold winter here in the midwest.  He was afraid of the snow and ice on the ground.  He would tell me he couldn't walk anymore, after we had walked 100 feet. He insisted he could not eat or swallow.  He refused to get out of bed.  
I miss talking to him.  But more than that, I cannot believe the physical toll on his body.  He walks once a day when made to.  He needs to eat pureed food to avoid "silent aspiration" (the cause of two episodes of pneumonia). Sometimes, he won't feed himself.  He does not shave himself or brush his own teeth.  He rarely goes to the bathroom by himself.  Now, he has taken a turn for the worse.  He has to live in a memory care unit.  Mom could not take care of him anymore 24/7.  I tried to help as much as I could, but she lived with him and I still have children at home.  

People always ask me, "Does he know you?" and I say, No.  They think that's the worst part of the disease, when in fact, it was the easiest thing to lose.  The hardest thing is watching this vibrant, smart, fun man become a shadow.  

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