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?
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.