Dad. Alzheimer's. Family members. Not the combination anyone wanted, but there it is - and it's becoming quite the learning experience.

Continuing to look at communication, we run into a lot of ups and downs, as Dad at this stage has many periods of clarity and only "incidents" of lapses. Or so it seems.

The family notices the periodic odd choice of words, forgetting a previous conversation or who came by to see him this morning. These are observations-what's happening on the outside. What's Dad experiencing? An easy answer would be frustration, since he's aware of missing things and has those times when he does understand the loss he's facing. It's not unreasonable to also expect a little fear along the way.

While the family can't change the diagnosis, frustration is something they can work with. They are, after all, Dad's kids and they've learned to attack problems with information and energy.

Efforts on the computer yielded www.alz.org, which resulted in tons of information regarding the disease, its stages and processes. It was quickly added to the "Favorites" for quick reference, and lots of information was printed out. In fact, the family has started a reference notebook on the subject.

And they're getting it. One of the things learned early on was to fight the impulse to constantly re-orient Dad.

"No, Dad, that's not right. You're forgetting.."

"No, Dad, we just talked about that a little while ago. Don't you remember?"

These mantras of re-focus do little other than frustrate everyone - and perhaps the family even more so than Dad. They've learned it's much better to get un-stuck from these circular conversations by distraction. After a pause, son number one says: "Dad, will you help me with our picture album?"

It not only gets out of the reminder-loop, but also allows some physical movement and mental exercise as they go through the photos. And it benefits everyone. As one of our staff put it:

"Thank God we have the capability of holding on to those memories-for us and our loved one both."

It's this type of activity that pays in the long run. Memories relived, information captured. (Just because Dad forgot breakfast doesn't mean he's forgotten the faces of folks 30 years past. It's a surprising dynamic sometimes.) And it brings home the fact that a family is ever-changing and adapting, Dad included.

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