This morning a cacophony of sounds and images invaded my father’s brain as he came upstairs with a string of things to do, places to go, people to see and not one of them seeming to relate to the other. I could hear my mother urging him to share his thoughts with me, “go and tell Lois what you’re talking about, she’ll know what to do,” as she wrestled with how to deal with his many requests.
Yesterday was a particularly ‘bright day’ for dad, as he engaged in conversation easily, went to the dentist, ate well and chatted about family members. He and my mother drove around with me for a series of errands, and we went to places that were new to him. This morning, remnants of the events from the day before clouded what he was trying to tell me.
I only had one key to get inside a friend’s house yesterday. Today, he ‘found’ that key overnight but needed to find it again and couldn’t. We were at this friend’s house because their piano had to be moved. Today, my father wanted to make sure all his belongings were being moved carefully, and asked for documentation to make certain that would happen. We spent a few hours at the dentist’s office, he pointed to his mouth, but couldn’t make out what he needed to tell me. Then he inserted a question for a rental car he had ‘ordered,’ and wanted to know if he could follow me on his walk.
We strive for ‘bright days’ for my father, where the connections in his brain allow him to communicate and remember some things and we have bits and pieces of conversation…but other days the tangles and plaques in my father’s brain take over, severing the links that on one day make sense and on the next leave him and everyone around him perplexed.
As these events unfolded this morning, I recalled “10 Communication Absolutes When Talking with People who have Dementia” I was given in the Alzheimer’s Association Savvy Caregivers class I took, and did my best to implement them. Among them, do not argue, instead agree; do not reason, instead divert. So I took my dad’s bag and set it down and told him I would make sure all his belongings were safe. I told him we didn’t need the key, that I had an extra one. I told him I would check on the status of the rental car, didn’t know what to say about his mouth, and then said he and my mother could walk on their own and I would be here when they got back. That seemed to relieve some of his stress and after he returned from the walk, he continued in his normal routine with no reference to these earlier discussions.
J Jordan, in our Savvy Caregivers class, encouraged us to imagine ourselves in a car with 10 screaming children, all demanding something different, and it’s our job to drive them somewhere. That, she says, is often what our loved ones with Alzheimer’s experience when they try to tell us a myriad of things that don’t appear to make sense. Because of the damage with the tangles and plaques in their brain, the connections are no longer taking place and they can’t make sense of everything that’s clamoring for their attention. It’s a war inside their head. Our job is to make them feel safe and secure. Period.
Just got a call from the dentist’s office where my dad went yesterday afternoon. Seems he left his partial there and they called to say they have it. “Did he miss it,” they ask? “Never mentioned a word,” I say…realizing when he pointed to his mouth this morning, he did know something was missing, he just didn’t know how to tell me. Well, we’re off to the dentist’s office to pick it up. And after a day of clouds and snow, it is sunny here. Maybe the rest of today will be ‘bright-er’ for my father.
I am not alone. Every 69 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s. Scientists are not absolutely sure what causes cell death and tissue loss in the Alzheimer’s brain, but plaques and tangles are prime suspects.