My Father is a good man. The kind that would give the shirt off his back to a total stranger. He’s worked hard all his life and made countless sacrifices for his wife and family over the years and would willingly make more. But then something happened that had the potential to change all that.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
When a person develops Alzheimer’s, it’s like an alien takes up residence inside their body and the person is powerless against it. They begin exhibiting unusual behaviors like becoming mean, paranoid, depressed or violent. Their brain is dying, and the constant barrage of neurological changes affect so much more than just their short-term memory. A sweet church-going elderly Christian woman can become a caustic, foul-mouthed person that spews out profanity like a sailor. And a man known for his gentle nature can morph into an angry tyrant swinging fists or throwing objects at those who love him most.
But it isn’t them. It’s the Alzheimer’s.
I remember eight years ago when my parents came to pick me up on a busy highway after an accident totaled my car. We were waiting for a tow truck with cars hurtling past us at 70 mph and my Father got so angry at me that he started walking up the highway in a rage. He’s always had a temper to contend with, but I’d never seen him this irate in all my life. His face turned blood red and his eyes were aflame as he yelled at me. The accident didn’t faze me in the least. But his anger shook me up so badly that I later wept like a child whose beloved pet had just been run over by a car. Dad’s doctor prescribed medication, which eliminated those episodes completely.
But that was eight years ago.
A lot has changed since then. He’s in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s so he struggles with his words. He cannot walk long distances and loses his balance easily. He needs help showering, dressing, using the restroom, getting in and out of the car, basically everything.
My Father is a jovial man, always cracking a joke to get someone to smile. He’s tenderhearted and compassionate, fun loving and easy going. The problem is, he’s not the only one taking up residence inside his body.
Over the weekend, I was dog sitting when I got a call Sunday at midnight. It was Mom and she was crying. My heart stopped as I braced myself, immediately thinking something had happened to Dad. But instead, something had happened to her.
While taking him to the restroom in the middle of the night, he became so angry that he hit her. The alien inside my Father reared its ugly head, hauled off and hit my Mother. Thankfully she wasn’t physically hurt, but she was shaken, scared, and at her wits’ end. She knew that my Father would NEVER hurt her and that what she came face to face with was the Alzheimer’s.
I sped home to find him asleep in his recliner and Mom curled up in bed. He had no idea what he’d done. I gave him more medication and put him to bed.
This is the scary side of Alzheimer’s, the side of dementia that every caregiver fears. What do you do? We’re forced to look at the option of finding a facility to place my Father in. But when nursing home residents are at greater risk for COVID-19 and many are dying, is that really the best solution?
I prayed. I prayed the whole drive home. I prayed for wisdom and mercy. I prayed that God would give us a solution and this would be the last time my Father ever hit anyone, especially my Mother. But even if it is, she is scared of him. He is a strong man and doesn’t even realize his own strength. How does she, how do we protect ourselves if this should happen again?
I contacted my Father’s hospice nurse on Monday and she came over. Sadly, violence is common behavior for some people with dementia. She recommended that we increase the dosage of his medication, so we did that immediately. And if this makes my Father a zombie who sleeps all the time, then so be it. We’ll just have to take it day by day.
Is this heavy? Absolutely. Too heavy for me. It was never meant for my shoulders. Never meant for anyone’s shoulders. So I’m just going to do what caregiving has taught me to do these last nine years. I’m going to give all of this over to my Father. My Heavenly Father. He will show us what to do. Because He IS love, I’m going to hold onto that love while we wait out this storm.
I’ve learned that it’s the safest and sweetest place to be.