My big, strong, larger-than-life dad started losing his memory a few years ago. At first, it was barely noticeable. He thought it was Tuesday all day Wednesday – big deal, it’s happened to all of us. He couldn’t remember where he put his car keys, but I’ve lost mine more than once, so I didn’t read too much into it. But soon, the frequency of these episodes made me sit up and take notice, and the lapses in memory were a little more serious. He was sure that his ten year old coat was brand new, and he forgot how to get home for the grocery store.
I could see that Dad was embarrassed by these lapses in memory, so I was embarrassed by them as well. How could I tell people who looked up to him (as I had all these years) that he no longer knew who they were? Would people forget all the things he had done in his life and focus only on the memory loss? I took Dad to the doctor and was unsurprised to get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone else. I tried to cover up his gaffes for a few months and didn’t take him out in public unless absolutely necessary.
I soon realized that this was no way to live – for him or for me. The Alzheimer’s wasn’t going to go away, and I didn’t want either of us to continue to feel isolated.
So I started telling friends and family, one at a time, what was going on. All my fears were unfounded. No one lost respect for him, instead they offered practical help, friendship and sympathy. Friends eased my burden by bringing over meals and visiting Dad when I couldn’t be there or when I needed to take care of household chores. And when the Alzheimer’s deteriorated to a point where Dad could no longer care for himself, my friend Sheila recommended hiring a home health aide.
A Home Health Aide Saves the Day
My first reaction was that I was handling everything and didn’t need outside help. But Sheila was persistent; she pointed out that I needed to take a break and clear my head sometimes. She explained that home health aides are experts in helping seniors with dementia and that they would provide excellent care. I hired an aide on a trial basis and the change in Dad was so positive that I was completely sold.
I still do a lot for Dad. I come to visit every day after work and spend most of my weekends with him. But with a home health aide taking care of the technical side of things, I’m able to enjoy just being with him. The characteristics that I remember and love are still there – the droll humor, the competitive spirit and his intense enjoyment of nature and sports. Whether we play cards or watch a football game on TV, I love his company and he loves having me around.
I’m so glad that I didn’t try to keep Dad’s Alzheimer’s a secret. That would have meant shouldering the burden completely alone, and while I could have kept that up for a while it wasn’t sustainable in the long term. It takes a village, not just to raise a child, but to care for anyone who needs help. Once I let the village in on my secret, Dad and I were able to accept assistance and experience a better quality of life.