14 May 2017

Visited Dad who has dementia...

I just got back from spending 2 weeks caring for Dad.  He lives in another state and has severe dementia.  His memory span is about 2 to 5 seconds, depending on how well rested he is.

His caretaker went on her annual vacation and the temporary caretaker backed out at the last minute so my sister put out a call for help.  Being that I'm retired, how can I say no?  I offered to stay for two weeks and then at which time a younger sister will take over until the caretaker returns.  So I flew in, rented a car, and drove over.

Dad is now 90 years old and we're fortunate that he's still physically healthy and mobile.  We're very fortunate that he's not suffering from incontinence.  While he is mobile, he is not a runner either.  He prefers to stay home and consistently refuses to leave his house even to walk the neighborhood that he has lived in for over 40 years.

I knew that being the sole caretaker would not be easy but have to admit that it was mentally exhausting. The daily activities such as preparing meals, cleaning, and other was the easy part.  It was his constant looping questions that was frustrating.  It was like "are we there yet?" with a toddler.  He would ask me the same question over and over until I could change the topic.  Then he would ask me another question over and over until I could change the topic.  Because he is mobile, he could follow me around the house.  At times, I would log on to the computer and tell him I was doing "homework".  He would often leave me alone for a bit but eventually approach, apologize for bothering me, and say he had to ask me just one question.  After I answered, he would say "ok", look away for second and then turn back to me, apologize for bothering me, and say he to ask me just one question.  Rinse - lather - repeat.

Because of his 2 to 5 second memory, he would ask the same question over and over.  I would remind him to eat his meal, he would thank me, and then wander away.

He also had a fear of catching cold.  So despite the 88 degree weather, he was wearing two light jackets and very afraid of getting wet.  So getting him to bath was difficult.  I finally got him in the shower and it was "the water is too hot/the water is too cold" until we finally hit it just right.  Then it was "hurry up before I catch cold".  

There were a couple times he woke me at 4 AM with a look of terror on his face.  He couldn't remember where he was.  He kept thinking that he was in a boarding house in his hometown.  He couldn't find his wallet, had no idea how much he had to pay to stay there, and was afraid of missing his flight home in the morning.  I would try to calm him down by telling him he was in his house that he had bought outright 40 years ago.  That he has plenty of money in the bank and food in the refrigerator.  He would calm down but was forgetting the answers almost as quickly as I gave them.  After a while, I was able to calm him down and urge him back to bed.

Long story short, it was very painful to see such a brilliant and hard working man reduced to living in fear and anxiety.  Constantly fretting over money, in fear when he couldn't remember where he was, or disappointed that his family does not visit him at all (we do but he doesn't remember).  He did not even realize that I was his son.  Even when he would call me by name and I think he knows who I am, he will ask me if I had ever met his wife or family.  I would explain who I am, there would be a flicker of recognition but it's gone within a few seconds.

Well, I have come to the conclusion that he is in Purgatory.  He is neither living or dead.  For myself, I do not want that.  I do not wish to inflict the difficulty and heartache of dementia on my wife and family.  I have told my wife and family in no uncertain terms that if so afflicted, let me go for a one-way hike in the mountains; let me nap in the snow; or let me accidentally take a bit too much of my medications. It would be a kindness to me.  I really hope if I should ever be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's that I will be cognizant enough to take myself out so that my family will not be faced with the dilemma of what to do.

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