This is SO very close to my heart, mind and soul. My dad is my world. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I was devastated, especially as the Atlantic ocean was between us. He lived in England and I lived in Canada.
When he no longer recognized his home of 48 years and was leaving it at 4am every morning to get the bus and train to find ‘home’, I knew I needed to intervene. So, I decided to fly home, in the middle of a pandemic, to bring him to my home to support him until we could find a suitable care setting for him in England, once vaccination was underway, and I was confident he would be safe.
Intuitively, at first, we tried to correct him, rationalize with him, I was going to be the one that could make him recognize me as his daughter on the days he didn’t, and of course I could help him realize that he is not in England every time he tried to leave my house and get the bus home to Penny Lane (where he grew up – those that know Beatles songs – my dad was actually born in Penny Lane).
But the more we tried, the more frustrated we all became and the more expressive behaviours he exhibited. He was more often than not agitated. Looking back on this now, it makes me so incredibly sad, that I was not better prepared.
Dad was with us for 4 months and a LOT happened in that time (including a nasty fall in the street which resulted in a broken hand and a very sore face).
I WISH I had had the tools and support to provide the best experience for him at the start. Through the experience, I learned to look BEYOND the words – that often did not make a sentence or sense – to dig deeper and try to interpret what those words meant.
I learned to replace questioning, correcting and rationalizing – with engaging in his new reality and taking it as an opportunity to learn more about his past – focusing on kindness instead of logic. This fostered reduced anger, confusion, and agitation. Several times a day my dad would tell me that he needs to call his mother to let her know where he is. The reality is that she is long deceased. Kindness is telling him ‘don’t worry dad I will let her know’, then finding an alternate activity to engage him.
We found a new love of Jenga, even if we did all now play by his rules of removing blocks and putting them in his pocket.
On returning to the UK and a new care setting (which was supposed to be proficient in managing people with dementia), my dad became extremely aggressive – a characteristic he has never EVER possessed in his life. People used to refer to my dad as cute little bob. Anyway, he broke a resident’s hip, tried to climb out of windows, kicked doors and used objects as weapons (including a fire extinguisher and a fork we were told) He was sent to hospital because they could not handle his ‘behaviour’. I was heartbroken.
After a month in hospital, a more suitable care home was found. His agitation and aggression were again exacerbated with yet another new environment BUT the carers there are highly trained and understood his expressive behaviours. If taken at face value they may have caused resent and hate towards him, exacerbating the problem, but due to their training and experience, they understood that this was my dad’s fear and anxiety at this new and constantly changing situation. They showed him love, kindness and patience and 3 months on he is content and happy in his new world, with his new friends. And I am, at last, also content and at peace.
I miss him so much and count down the days to the end of this pandemic so I can go and give him the biggest hug he has ever had.
Are you willing to have a conversation with me about your experience/s caring for someone? Perhaps you would prefer to write up your story yourself. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!