Please Visit My Father, Even Though He Has Dementia

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A Daughter’s Plea

My Dad has had dementia for the past 15 years but in the past 2 years his dementia has progressed significantly. Up until 3 years ago my Mom was still able to take him out socializing with friends. She was even traveling the world with him. Not one of my Mother’s best decisions, but all in all they were still able to be socially active. Often they would visit me since I live out of state and Dad was content even though I had to remind him every hour where we were.

At this point Dad no longer recognized those who were once his closest friends but they were familiar to him so this had made it possible for Mom to stay connected and still socialize as a couple. Dad still knew his immediate family and we were all grateful for that.

Just about 2 years ago I realized that Dad no longer knew I was his daughter and would often mistaken me for my Mom, his wife. Though I understand the debilitating changes that dementia would have on Dad, the momentum of his deterioration is very sad and difficult. In Dad’s mind he isn’t an almost 85 year old man, he is somewhere in his mid 20’s to 30, depending on the day.

Through the varied transitions of dementia, my family and I remained focused and vigilant about keeping Dad calm, safe and well cared for. Dad no longer knows my name or how we are connected, but he does know that I am familiar, and that there is a feeling of love and trust.

This past summer, Dad’s dementia caused him to become aggressive, creating a whole new set of challenges. Dad was no longer calm, nor was he safe for himself and at times those around him. We had been able to keep him at home with around the clock caregivers, but this quite rapidly became an unsuitable option given his mental state.

Dad needed greater psychiatric attention and focus on adjusting his medications. Unfortunately, this can be and is a significant challenge, at least in my Dad’s case. It actually took a good two months to get Dad back to a calm and safe place and was the most difficult experience I’ve had to face.

My immediate and extended family are very close, after all, we are Italian. But during his hospital stay and his time in the psychiatric facility, I took notice that the only people visiting my Dad was his immediate family. No friends, no relatives, just the very small nucleus of our immediate family. Why, would this be?

If Dad had a broken hip, or had pneumonia, would he have visitors? Has the misfortune of having dementia made Dad invisible? Is it fear or is it a cognitive decision that my Dad, the man he used to be, no longer exists. He looks like Dad, but he wouldn’t know if he had a visitor or not, anyway, would he?

(Dementia & Alzheimer’s Care, The Black Hole in Our Society)

I recently had dinner with close relatives; they’ve known my father for as long as they have been alive. We were talking about Dad and someone said, “we would visit your father, but we don’t think he would recognize us”. My initial knee jerk reaction was to scream out “ so what does that have to do with anything”? “Don’t YOU want to see him”? “Don’t you think his immediate family would appreciate the gesture and support”?

I am a Family / Divorce Mediator by profession, so I’m generally the one trying to refrain others from screaming. I guess that training and therapy helped me to thinking about that troublesome WHY, a bit longer. What could these people who have been so much a part of my life, my Dad’s life, be thinking? Or feeling? I think mental illness creates a whole lot of fear in people.

But instead, my years of training as a professional Mediator and therapy makes me take into consideration what the other person may be feeling. I thought perhaps this comment was coming from a place of fear. So my response to “we would visit your father, but we don’t think he would recognize us” was, “well Dad may not know you by name or know that you’re related, but I truly believe he feels the people that are closest to him and most of all he can feel your love”.

There are lyrics to a song by the Avett Brothers, “Life is ever changing, but I find a constant and a comfort in your love”.

If you know someone with dementia or alzheimer’s, they’re still here and so are the opportunities to visit with them and to share your love. Those who suffer from these terribly debilitating diseases have lost memories, but they can still feel love. There is nothing cerebral in pure love, the same way that there is nothing cerebral in feeling joy.

When I visit Dad, his face lights up the room and he’s actually playful with me, just like he used to be before this horrible disease invaded his mind. I know that he “knows” me, not the way he used to but in a way that matters just the same, if not more.

His smiles have become truly priceless to me and makes my heart dance. I will treasure his smiles for as long as he shares them with me and when they are gone the memories will last forever. I’m sure they will then bring smiles to my face and I will have the memory of how my heart felt dancing.

The picture that appears with this article is the author and her Dad.

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About Roseann Vanella

Our Family Expert, Roseann Vanella has spent a lifetime witnessing many families in transition on both a professional and personal level. She is a Professional Family/Divorce Mediator who clearly understands the impact on families going through life changes. She lives her passion through supporting & educating families through her work as a Professional Mediator, previous Radio Show Host and through building the community.

9 thoughts on “Please Visit My Father, Even Though He Has Dementia

  1. Gail Rosenbaum

    This heartfelt story is incredibly enlightening. In general, the thought process of friends and relatives is quite innocent and common. Thank you so much for educating others on how much the visits and love truly mean to an Alzheimer’s or Dementia patient. With this understanding, from your inside perspective, I believe many patients will now benefit and be loved even more. Thank you for everything you do to help make lives happier and for providing the support so desperately needed.

    • Roseann Vanella Post author

      Thank you Gail. The reaction from others is very innocent & common. Through my experience and sharing it, I hope to educate others who may not have had such an intimate experience with this terrilble illness. I truly believe that through sharing and education we can make difference in so many lives.

  2. Natasha

    Roseann – That is a beautiful and heartfelt article. Thank you so much for sharing it. I love what you wrote about love not being a cerebral experience, but a felt one. That makes so much sense! Good luck with your Dad. I’m glad he has you, and I’m sure he knows that too, somehow, some way.

  3. Halee Burg

    Roseann, what you have shared is heartfelt and vital. The losses suffered in Alzheimer’s are multidimensional and impact relationships in fundamental ways – the ability to communicate, to connect, and to collaborate are all tested and changed. While far too many illnesses or diseases ravage the body and prematurely take loved ones from us, few impact the cognitive and processing functions as does Alzheimers. Both as a fellow adult family / elder mediator helping families plan for a different future with their loved ones, and as one who has lost a parent to Alzheimers, I’ve observed exactly the behaviors you describe – once close family and/or friends choosing to distance themselves from the friend or family member stricken with Alzheimers, particularly in the latter stages of the illness. I believe the dynamics that play into the distancing are multifaceted, and I’ve observed three common contributors: 1) the fear of vulnerability – if my friend or family member can have this awful disease, it can happen to me; 2) an inability to deal with the pain of seeing their friend/family member different from or “diminished,” and 3) avoidance of role reversal – an adult child putting a stake in the ground and asserting that he or she didn’t sign on to become the parent. I’m sure other factors also contribute to the distancing. Articles like yours help remind us that while our friends/loved ones may not be able to engage and interact in ways they once did, they still are human, they still can feel, can connect, can love, and be loved. Thank you for sharing.

    • Roseann Vanella Post author

      Halee, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I do believe that Alzheimer’s & Dementia have a multidimensional impact on relationships. Not only for the person who has it but for their loved ones too. Let’s hope that by not only engaging in our professions, but by also sharing our personal stories we can change the dynamic and better support the people and their families that are effected by this illness. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  4. Chris Wierzbicki

    It was so good to see you after so many years, although the circumstances were less than ideal. Please let me know if you think a visit once in a while to Mom would be helpful. I am in Queens, but would certainly make the trip. Her first words to me last night were I miss your Mom so much. I could bring pictures and other items I have been finding in my Mom’s things. Just let me know!

  5. Joy Rosenthal

    Thanks for printing this – it’s so true. I wish you and your Dad all the best – it must be a scary time for him – and a difficult time for your family. I’m glad you can still appreciate the touchjng, intimate moments with him!

    • Roseann Vanella Post author

      Joy, thanks for reading this and commenting. Sadly, my Dad passed on Feb. 29th, just 11 days after his 85th Birthday. It was difficult but in the end he was surrounded by much love & compassion. I miss him everyday but know that he is in a better place and his suffering has ended.


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