Growing Old With Dignity


photo 2Do you know what a person with Stage 6 Alzheimer’s Disease looks like?  Maybe you don’t.  By the time a person has reached Stage 6, they’ve probably been put in a kennel, and left to die.  This is how my 90 year old father, who is Stage 6, celebrated the 4th of July.  You’ll note the lemonade, the watermelon, which he was allowed to eat on the counter, and then he had a hotdog chaser.  My mother called around 12:30AM on Saturday, to tell me he was up, fixing himself a huge bowl of watermelon.  He took it back to the bedroom, and ate it in bed, watching an old movie.  (Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s making me crazy.  I’m tired.  When I’m tired I have that disgusting grown-up child’s tendency to bring up all past offenses done to me by my father.  The list can fill maybe 10 lines – FYI).

On the Fourth of July, my mother received a visit from a a substitute nurse from the local home health care. By the time the woman left, my mother’s heart rate was up around 179.  She was in a panic, having a panic attack, and absolutely terrified.  The woman told her that she had congestive heart failure, and could drop dead at any moment from it. Never mind, a few months earlier, her cardiologist told her that he was not as concerned about congestive heart failure as he was the fact that she could go into a coma from a major blood sugar drop, and never wake up – because she doesn’t eat or take care of herself.

None of that mattered.  She was in a total panic.  The the women grilled her about her end of life plans.  When she dies before my father, what then?  Did she have a directive allowing physicians to do what they thought best?  My mother’s answer – do you think I’m a fool?  She said absolutely not, then told her that her two daughter had joint POA and joint medical directives for both she and my father.  What were her plans for the disposition of my father, if she can’t care for him. Oh, and did she know that you don’t leave someone with AD alone?  I can’t believe she did ask the woman if she looked that stupid.

My mother ends up in bed, sucking oxygen, in a total panic attack.  My sister calls, a third time, telling her she’s had the same heart condition since we were in high school, so why go into a panic?  After that, she settled down, got a grip, and the heart-rate slowed, back to normal.

People who are no longer young, no longer in perfect health and are no longer ‘viable’ to society, are increasingly treated like dirt.  If that person has AD, it is even worse.  For some strange reason, those suffering from AD are allowed even less dignity than other seniors.  I’ve spent some time with my father, this week.  Sure, he’s dotty.  He’s Stage 6.  But, if you take away the sundowning, the constant discussion about long-dead family, and some odd business rumblings, if you did not know he had AD, well, you’d just think he’s a little senile. Why would we even think about putting him in some sort of institution where he is treated like a child?

One of the great tragedies is that we, as children, want to inflict our will on our parents.  Sure, the older they get, the crazier they make us, but we need to remember that they are viable individuals with hearts, minds, and souls of their own – even those who are suffering from AD.  Anyone who thinks that someone who is in Stage 6 AD cannot contribute to society and their family is lying to themselves.  One more visit or so, and my niece, who will soon be two, will have a handle on ‘Bert Da’.  She already knows him.  He lives for her visits.  With good photos and a few videos, Catie will always remember him.  You lock him up in a kennel and forget that.

My father loves his new courtyard.  He enjoys hanging out in it, reading his cowboy books, and praying.  Yesterday, he was reading Oswald Chambers.  His mind is there, it’s just scrambled a little.  How dare we not respect that?

On the 4th, I screwed up one of my mother’s yard chairs.  He fixed it.