Ramblings of an Alzheimer’s Patient’s Son
Posted on September 16, 2013
I took my father to see Sarah Brightman in concert a couple of years ago and went all out on the show as a sort of last hurrah. We’d gone together several times before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I knew this would be the last time I could take him. We paid a bit extra—quite a bit, actually—to see the backstage world of what went into the show and to meet/take a picture with Sarah herself. She’s coming around to Detroit again later this month and I’ve been reminiscing a bit about what’s changed between then and now. We knew dad’s condition would get worse, only we couldn’t anticipate how since there are some anomalies that exist between Alzheimer’s patients. Also, the further along someone progresses, it seems there’s less for a caregiver—let alone a son—to find for someone with Alzheimer’s to do.
It amazes me to think that dad was able to sit through a 90 minute concert a couple of years back. There’s no way he could do that now. He’d get bored, want to get up, walk around, ask where mom was and then want to go home. There could be bombs going off around us and he’d react the same way. Unless someone’s projecting video footage or pictures of animals on a big screen at a concert, it won’t hold dad’s attention. If you only knew the number of times I’ve had to sit through watching Furry Vengeance because it’s one of the few movies that can keep dad entertained, you might actually begin to understand why I’m as snarky as I am.
Our one saving grace is that dad loves to do puzzles now. Forget anything more than 500 pieces. 300 seems to be about as high as he’ll go. And they have to be fairly big pieces. It they’re smaller, he’ll get frustrated and take a month to put it together instead of a couple of days. We might as well forget any puzzles with artwork that doesn’t contain animals either. There’s nothing to inspire him to finish if there isn’t an animal he can look at and talk to. Yes, he talks to them when he’s putting them together. It doesn’t bother us. It used to bother me because I didn’t know what he was whispering and it could have been satanic verses for all I knew. Trust me, I have enough trouble in my life without him raising the devil to give me grief. Fortunately, dad was just chatting with the animals.
He likes to sit at the kitchen table in the new house while putting together his puzzles because he can also look outside at the birds and watch the squirrels play. Dad’s attention gets lost doing this and I don’t mind it so much. There are far worse things he could be doing. There is far worse behavior he could be exhibiting. The man is perpetually happy, annoyingly so. Yes, it’s a blessing, but did I mention how annoying it is? And trust me when I tell you that you have to experience it for at least a week to understand what I’m talking about. It doesn’t sound horrible. Try years of it.
The other thing we have him doing is using a computer and utilizing a word search program. He loves that! He also talks to himself when he’s doing that in much the same way a child would. I only object when he gets really loud. He doesn’t realize how loud he can be. The talking to himself thing is getting a bit troublesome, too, since he’s now doing it in restaurants if you leave him to go pay the bill. He’ll also talk to himself if he’s sitting in the vehicle while you’re gassing it up, completely oblivious to the fact the windows are open. I typically remind him that they are and he gets a bit embarrassed not by the fact he was talking to himself, but that others could hear him. Just like a kid.
I’m not embarrassed by him or for him. This is the way things are. I make sure to play lots of music for him because they say music helps. I don’t know if it does, but he enjoys it. I’ve also calmed down a bit thinking I have to spend every waking minute trying to keep him occupied when he’s with me. I have a life, too. I have things I need to do each day. He’s free to use the computer, work a puzzle or stare out the window. Sometimes we play a game together, but those don’t always hold his attention. I just wish I could find other things to occupy him. That’s the one area we haven’t been very successful in.
I’ve also learned to say ‘no.’ For a long while, dad absolutely had to have a walk each day and a long ride. I take him for a walk, but I don’t always take him for a long ride. I don’t always take him to the beach when he asks. I don’t always take him down Jefferson when he asks. He asks for many things. Sadly, he’ll ask, then tell you how surprised he is that you’re taking him down Jefferson because he doesn’t remember asking. And when mom picks him up, he’ll ask her because he doesn’t remember he’s already gone.
That’s the crappy side of Alzheimer’s. I’ve had to learn that dad will ask just like a child instinctively asks for a toy or candy bar whenever walking into a store. It’s okay to say ‘no’. It’s also okay that I sometimes look at dad when he’s in one of his “I’m going to comment on anything and everything” moods and politely ask him to put a cork in it. There are days I lose my temper, too. Dad’s approach to raising me was to step outside a situation or problem and look at it logically. I adapted that approach to many aspects of my life. There’s no logic to Alzheimer’s. There’s no logic to his behavior now. And if you think I haven’t mentioned to him how much a non-help his approach is to me these days, you’d be mistaken.
It’s time to go queue up Furry Vengeance. The skunks spraying Brendon Frasier make me laugh now, too. The man deserves it for making this movie.
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.