Apr 21, 2016

A Farewell to Alzheimer’s Disease

Written at the bedside of a dying military hero, father, loving husband and Alzheimer’s patient.

The day is almost here, but not without a fight.

It’s been about ten years since the repetitive questions started coming from my father a brilliant, confident, strong, larger than life retired military officer with a dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye.

By Aileen Ruess

A munitions expert in VietNam. He never talked about it much but how would you figure the amount of munitions it would take to bomb a tank versus anything else. He did.

We could not understand how he kept asking the same question over and over. We could not understand that our patriarch needed to be reassured over and over.

My parents are private people. I am not even exactly when he was diagnosed. My mother kept waiting for the day for him to get better. It all came to a head when she had a heart attack.

I moved in to stay with dad. He asked me to leave to get out of his house. He offered me money to leave. I showed him my driver’s license, he told me it was fake. I called my mother in the hospital so she could tell him I was his daughter. It didn't do any good. He could not stand the sight of me.

We found an assisted living facility with a memory care unit the perfect solution! First, we spent a few hours there. My father was content sitting in this strange place. On move in day I stood helpless and felt horrible as they let him meek as a lamb into his new home. I thought how could he not resist, run away, or bolt for it. He didn't even look back.

My mother faithfully visited every day. Paradise did not last long before the facility requested help. My father was combative. My father, Mr. Charming, the toast of the Country Club, combative!

Then came the phone call. Your father is being escorted to the psych ward by the police. There was an altercation with another resident with no witnesses. We did not even know what Baker Act meant, when someone is a danger to themselves or others. My mother’s daily journey changed locations as she endeared the technicians of the mental health unit with cookies and crackers every day for seventeen days.

My mother has survived cancer and a heart attack. Her devotion never waned as she defended her husband through a kangaroo court, from being over medicated and sought the best care available while waiting for him to get better.

That nice assisted living facility would not take him back. They have a very accommodating forty-five-day notice letter. I never thought in my whole life that I would have to frantically find a place for my father to live. My father was a dignified, upstanding, brilliant man, a victim of a horrible disease; got banned from a memory care unit. Going back to the house with my mother was not an option so another one was found but one really isn't any better than the other.

I knew the day would come when I would wish he could ask me the same question for the hundredth time, and wander and wander, and even get mad because he could not stand the sight of me. The day has finally come.

The oxygen plastic cord is wound around his ears through his nose, the breathing is strong, the blood pressure is good, pulse is good, the fever is up and down.

There are no questions, no wandering, no combativeness, no smirky grin, no loud “Huuowdy”, no dry humor cracking everyone up, no twinkle in his eye for his bride of 58 years.

There is morphine, atropine and Tylenol. Farewell Alzheimer's ten years is a long time but don't expect to go without a fight.

Aileen Ruess is a Geriatric Care Manager and can be found at Caregivers Assist.

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