Dad seemed to be doing very well lately. It is over 10 years since dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and he has had poor short-term memory for quite awhile already. Still his long term memory seemed good. In the past 2 months, when I took him out to lunch, he has been eating better than he had in the past few years. He completely finished his entre most times, whereas before he only ate half. I was beginning to think he was going to stay stable for a long time.
However, in the past week, he had an experience that worried me. We went to his favorite restaurant where we have been going regularly lately. When we arrived, he tried to get out of the car before I even got the handicapped sticker up on the mirror. I said: “Wait Pop!” as I scrambled out of the car and to the other side to take out his walker. After I set up the walker, I opened his door and dad tried to climb out.
He had forgotten to take off his seat belt and it was holding him back. He tried several times. I said “Wait, – take off your seatbelt!” He tried to lift it over his head. My heart sank. I never saw him do that before. I reached across his lap and unsnapped the belt buckle and he climbed out. I wondered all through lunch if this was another watershed moment.
Dad only ate half his entre that day. But when we got back into the car he sat right down and snapped his seat belt into place. Maybe it was a fluke? I worry about every small incident – is this a mark of deterioration or not? I will only know in retrospect. But for that day, it was a sobering moment.
Since then I have visited him twice, but only in his facility either in the lounge or in his room. Each time he has been quiet, though that is not unusual. I try to draw him into conversations with comments, pictures and questions. But for the most part, he looks briefly at the pictures and says he doesn’t remember to my questions. I know I shouldn’t ask questions, but make statements instead, but there were days when he surprised me with stories about cousins and friends from long ago times.
Today I mentioned that I had watched the Roosevelt television series during the past 2 weeks. (Using the DVR I stretched it out rather than watching every evening and I can time shift to a bit earlier in the evening.) I asked dad if he remembered the day when Roosevelt died. He didn’t. I was somehow surprised at that, as it was such a big historical event. (I still remember when President Kennedy was shot – where I was, who I was with, etc.) But for dad, the memories continue to fade.
Of course, I feel sad each time I see another indication of dad’s fading memory. I know I can’t change things, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to! I am now in the process of trying to line up three companions for the winter when I travel. Some of the companions from last year will not be available again this year. I will miss them because I like and trust them, and also because I need to find replacements. I like to have the same people every year so dad will have continuity and they will know dad better too. This process is also stressing me, since I won’t relax until I know I have at least 2-3 confirmed companions and one or two more as backups.
Sometimes I have to remind myself of why I feel so stressed and so busy. After all this is the retirement I waited for. Why don’t I feel free to travel and do the things I always wanted to do? The answer is obvious – I have to plan ahead to have someone cover for me and I have to be ready to return home at a moment’s notice if there is an emergency. I wish over and over that my siblings would be of some help, but I have to accept that they simply never will be.
In every family, there is one responsible person who takes on the eldercare responsibility. In my family, that one person is me. My siblings have personal issues, mental health issues and perhaps financial issues that get in the way. Most of all though, it is the lack of desire that keeps them from helping dad.