Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dealing with Alzheimer’s

I am always hoping that people will be understanding and tolerant of my son with autism. But I struggle for that same tolerance with my father who has Alzheimer’s.

Being with my dad is like living a real-life version of Groundhog Day, except there’s nothing humorous about it.

I can be somewhat patient with listening to him say the same things over and over again. When he mentions the “beautiful weather” for the tenth time in an hour, I can usually manage a nod of the head and a tired response to him.

But when his complete lack of memory is combined with his naturally ornery personality, things get more difficult.

He gets argumentative every time we make a suggestion that would benefit him. Everything is fine, in his mind, even though it is obvious to anyone who has seen his house, or come within a few feet of his smelly clothes, that it is not.

Last week, my wife took him to get new eyeglasses made. But when he found out the price, he refused to buy them. His mind recalls the prices of eyeglasses from 20 years ago. So, even the cheapest place today seems too expensive.

Refusing to get glasses that he really needs is bad enough. But the worst part was that he later totally forgot that he had refused to buy the lenses, and he kept pestering my wife about when they would go to pick up his new glasses. After about the hundredth time explaining that he did not order the glasses, my wife couldn’t take it anymore.

Remarkably, my son was more patient with my dad than we were.

And that was despite my dad not being patient or understanding of Kai.

My dad often badgered Kai when he did not promptly answer a question. I’ve long since stopped trying to explain to my dad that a back-and-forth exchange like that is still challenging for Kai, instead opting to prompt Kai to respond to his grandfather.

At one point, when Kai overheard my wife and I talking about my dad, he looked up the BrainPop movie on Alzheimer’s.

He also noticed that my dad repeated things.

“You always say that,” Kai grumbled, when my dad told him once again how much he enjoyed his meal.

And yet, despite all that, Kai still wanted to go to the Botanic Garden with Ojiichan.

And play games with him.

Perhaps Kai’s autism makes him less aware of all the challenges his grandfather poses.

But perhaps it is something else.

Is it possible that the pure heart of a child is more forgiving and understanding than our adult ones?


  1. Oh, you might be on to something there. How impatient we become, it is true!

    I blog with Martha, who has her mom with alzheimers living with her. They just went through similar scenarios with her in having cataract surgery. She has found that if you insist on things, like buying the glasses, their anger or frustration is forgotten just like not buying them was for you. Hope that's some consolation that if you push and make things happen, they are not likely to remember the argument or be upset with you!

    1. Betsy,

      My dad is usually very stubborn and strong-willed. He has always been that way, but it is extra difficult now as he just does not realize that we are trying to help him and do what is best for him. Sometimes he can be pushed to do something, but often that doesn't work. Though you are right that he seems to soon forget the argument.

  2. I definitely think that children have pure hearts. I think they are aware of people's feelings because they also go through awkward and scary situations as a child. Things are often confusing for them...and they feel a kinship with others who are also having a hard time.

    I feel for everyone in your family. I know how frustrating it can sometimes be with someone suffering from any form of dementia. What we had done with my dad, in his last years, was to forego the short term memory loop and to utilize his longer term memory through the use of a fondly remembered positive reinforcer as a method of guiding his actions.

    It had always helped me to realize when my father was still alive, and in his last months of life, that he was a prisoner of his own mind...and that he was helpless. I had momentary frustration...but I had quickly realized that it was up to us to use our functioning minds to help my father by using our imagination to guide the situation. It is a marathon...and you must pace yourself. I hope your family well.

    1. You are right that it is up to us to use our functioning minds to help our loved ones who cannot help themselves. Usually it is my wife who is better able that I am to get my dad to do something.

      But this situation is difficult for all, and we also must weigh the cost of additional stress for the family, and whether he would now be better off some place where professionals can look after him. Thank you for your support.


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