We, his four adult children, his son-in-law and daughter-in-law, noticed something was wrong beyond the usual forgetfulness, oftern associated with age, in the late Summer of 2011.
We spent months trying to convince each other, (and ourselves), that he wasn't very different to 'usual'.
We knew nothing of Alzheimer's: of it's insidious creeping up on the victim and his or her friends and family; of it's tendency to hide for a while by it's coming and going.
Then Christmas came around and Dad came to my house to spend Christmas day. Last year, we'd sat at the same table to eat our Christmas lunch. We'd sat on the same settee opening presents, watching TV, chatting, laughing. But this year my Dad was too quiet. Too distant. Confused.
It's been a long and hard road since then. He was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease mixed with Vacular Dementia , in March 2013. He was 75 years old.
The Bad Bits
- Our dad has aged. We didn't know that a common symptom of Alzheimer's is a loss of balance. This has resulted in a lurching and stooped walk.
- Our dad is shocked every time we tell him he has Alzheimer's. It confuses him - even more.
- Forgetting 'events', not remembering what has happened or is going to happen, is the least stressful symptom - for Dad and for us!
- He has lost his reasoning skills. This means that he sees my brother, (who now lives with him), walk into the kitchen in a dressing gown EVERY MORNING and thinks that he's popped in for a chat. It means that paying two men £7000 to wash his driveway seemed fine. Paying them another £7000 a week later to clean the patio in the garden also seemed OK.
- Medical appointments are frightening for him. His short-term memory is all but gone. As he holds out his arm for an injection, he's already forgotten why he's been asked to hold it out. He's in a room he can't remember going into, with a person he doesn't know, having a needle pointed right at him!
- He forgets to eat, to wash, to clean the house.
- We have had to seek out and ask for every bit of practical and emotional support my dad and us, his carers, receive. We didn't know where to start, what was available, what to ask for.
The Good Bits
- There are good bits.
- My dad has become nice! He didn't particulalrly used to be when we were all growing up. He went through a frightened, shouting, violent stage when the Alzheimer's began to really get a hold - before he was given the right medication.
- He was always such a shy, withdrawn, troubled person. Now he is calmer, kinder, friendlier than he's ever been.
- He remembers, and talks about, the good things from his past. They make him happy.
- He's funny! He makes jokes! I'd never known him do this before.
- He has his family around him. Caring about him.
- The people who work at Leicester Social Services Department have all been fantastic, supportive and friendly.
Dad on a happy day with one of his grandsons
Taking Each day as it Comes
This is how we all live now. The family. Somehow, we've settled into a laid-back, (ish), cooperative, supportive unit. Taking each day as it comes. Seeing the bright side of watching my dad change.
Last week I took my dad to meet up with the rest of the '25 Year Plus Club' - a reunion of long serving workers from the company he used to work at. Almost all of them are retirees. Many are now in their eighties. My dad didn't remember any of them! He had a lovely day!
Everyone who knew him came up for a chat. They told him who they were, how they knew him, and were kind to him. They reminded him of things they had done together. The look of amazement on his face, to hear of this life he can't remember, was sad - but also lovely to see. He was happy - for the whole afternoon. I was glad to have been the one to take him there.
We don't know what will happen next - how our dad will change. But we'll cope with that when the time comes...
I'd love to hear your comments. Either on this post, or about your own experiences of Alzheimer's.