Thursday, April 14, 2016

Alzheimer's + Pneumonia = Heavy Toll

For those who are following the story of my parents and my dad's Alzheimer's, I wanted to provide an update.

As you know, Dad's been living in a nursing facility for the past 18 months or so.  During that time, it seems that he has come to accept that it is now his home.  The staff is very kind to Dad and he has his obvious favorites.  They treat him well for two reasons:  1) Everyone has always liked my Dad.  He was always friendly, gregarious, and ready for a party.  He mellowed some as he aged, but for the most part, Dad was the person you could easily share a beer with, who would yell to you when he saw you, who people recognized throughout our part of the state partly because of who he is and partly because of the job he had.  And 2) because when we cannot advocate for ourselves, we all hope that we have someone to fight for us, just like the way my Mom does for him every day.  The staff at the nursing facility know that if they slip up just once, Mom is there to call them on it.  Nothing slips by her.  She continues to be (as she always has been) Dad's wife/mother/best friend in sickness and in health.

And Dad's health continues to steadily decline.  Three weeks ago, Dad contracted double pneumonia, an illness from which even the healthiest people have difficulty recovering.  As the paramedics were placing Dad in the ambulance to transport him to the hospital, the nursing staff prepared Mom for the probability that Dad would not recover from it.

But recover he did.  The scrappiest man I've ever known defeated double pneumonia for the 2nd time within a year, both times with greatly reduced faculties.  His tenacity to survive continues to amaze me on a daily basis.  It's not without a paid price, however.  Last week, I traveled home to see Mom and Dad and he is quite different now than when I saw him at Christmas.  His verbal communication has almost ceased.  He now will either fuss with something small in his hands or simply just sit and stare.  Mom continues to talk to him as she always has, but her words may be falling on deaf ears, or at least ears that are run by a brain that refuses to allow Dad's mouth to engage in the conversation.

Mom continues to visit Dad twice a day, every day.  She feeds him both lunch and dinner.  When we counsel Mom that she doesn't need to spend that much time with him, she simply replies that she "just can't see him sitting (up there) all by himself all day".  That's an amazingly supportive and loving thought.  However we aren't completely sure if Dad understands the passing of time.  During a recent evening visit, Mom got up from the chair in which she had been sitting for a few hours and walked to Dad's closet to organize his clothes.  When she came back to the chair, Dad reacted with a weak, "Oh hi" as if he was seeing her for the first time that day.

At this point, Mom visits Dad for her sake, not his.  And until she decides that it's okay for her to spend less time living his life and more time living her own, there's nothing her family can do to change her pattern.  Still, this continued regimen of just sitting for 4-hour increments not communicating with anyone is aging Mom at a rapid rate.  It's not fair to her and not fair to us as, in many ways, my siblings and I have two parents essentially living in a nursing facility.  She KNOWS she needs to take better care of herself and she KNOWS that things should change for her, but until she accepts those ideas as OK, she will continue living his life, not hers.