MY NAME IS Denise, I am 50 years of age and the eldest of seven children; I have six younger brothers, three adult sons, and I became a grandmother last November. I am involved in Early Childhood Care and Education. My dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is 74 years of age. This is my experience of my dad’s journey living with Alzheimer’s.
When I began noticing some changes in Dad it was not just about his memory – reasoning and logic became a problem, too. Dad would get confused with simple everyday tasks, he would also get confused with directions to places he knew, appointments were forgotten, and he could not recall stories the family had told him. People said, ‘Oh sure doesn’t everyone experience problems with their memory’, but this was different. Although friends meant well, this gave Dad a reason to dismiss the diagnosis when it came.
Dad forgot things we told him and when we would remind him that we told him, he found it very difficult to accept he had forgotten. It was always someone else’s fault or else he was adamant he hadn’t been told. This would lead to arguments and we have since realised that this is a typical reaction, it’s everyone else who is wrong, not Dad! This was his way of dealing with the changes he was experiencing.
Doing things that made no sense
Dad would do things that made no sense, one day I found him one day putting the used tea bags into the recycle bin. When I asked him why he was doing that, he said it was to give the bin ‘a bit of weight’. He also went to zip up his jacket one day and couldn’t find the small piece to insert the zipper in to. He blamed Mam for ruining his jacket in the wash until we showed him that the piece was at the top of the zip instead of the bottom. There have been a few more incidents and these still surprise me about Dad. It is sometimes difficult to follow his reasoning for things.
We decided to try get Dad to see a GP but he had hardly ever been to the GP in his life so this wasn’t easy. My brother eventually got Dad to the GP and the Universal Alzheimer’s Test was carried out. After a number of weeks the results showed that Dad did indeed have early signs of Alzheimer’s. He didn’t take this well. He claimed the tests were ridiculous; the questions were not suited to him, why wasn’t he asked easier questions, questions he would have known the answers to!
It took him a long time to accept the diagnosis and this was the worst time for us as a family. We now had a direction to take Dad in, yet he absolutely refused to believe he needed to go there. He thought we were trying to put him into a nursing home; following a particularly upsetting argument I had with him, I had to hold him by the shoulders and promise him we were in fact trying to do the opposite –keep him at home with us. Only then did we finally begin to get somewhere with him.
Without support, I don’t know how we would cope
Although Dad was not happy, I was pleased with the diagnosis as now we could get him the supports he needed. Little did I know how much support we would need as a family. It was difficult as one of us would call to Dad and find him in great form, thus making liars of the other siblings. Now we realise he has good days and not so good days.
Mam has been amazing but it is difficult to keep it all balanced. Supporting Mam while keeping an eye on Dad has been another unexpected challenge. His mood swings are upsetting for her and she needs a lot of support when it happens, very understandably. It also upsets her when she sees how his condition is taking its toll on us. I suppose the Mother Hen is always on duty.
I sometimes feel torn. Alzheimer’s has taken over Dad’s life, he seems to talk about little else. His Alzheimer’s Social Club is very important to him and the days he goes there is a welcome break for Mam. Watching my grandson making cognitive connections while Dad struggles to maintain his cognitive function is quite a dichotomy. I see my grandsons’ memory and reasoning expand and develop and I am so proud of him. He can remember the names for objects and recalls them rapidly… then I see Dad, who also knows the names for everything, and yet he cannot recall them.