One of the most worrying, frightening even, things which families with elderly members dread, is the issue of their deteriorating state of mind as they grow older. My mother died at the age of 71 and my dad at the age of 94, but were both in control of all their faculties even at that age, so I never personally had to deal with the issue, but I have experienced relatives and friends who have.
Sad, frustrating, incompetent, worrisome, lonely—these are some of the words used to describe their situations involving the interaction and care of family members who are suffering with the debilitating condition of Alzheimer’s. There are issues they are forced to think about, decisions to make, caregivers to find, and the worst-case scenario, institutionalisation. It’s never easy.
While viewing CSI NY recently, I focused on one of the plots of the episode which dealt with a CSI scientist, Adam, who was dealing with the situation of his father’s suffering from Alzheimer’s and living in a home.
Adam would visit, play cards, games, converse at best as he could with his father who at times recognised him and at other times would call him by his brother’s, uncle’s, or even his (the father’s) name.
One day the father wandered away from the institution and was picked up by police officers and brought to the precinct where Adam worked. Hearing the uproar, he went to investigate and realised it was his father who, in a temporary flash of recognition, began to verbally berate Adam and lashed out at him with pokes and slaps, accusing him of sending the police to arrest him, telling him he was worth nothing and would never amount to anything.
After a while Adam went into the room carrying a drink for his father who had by then calmed down but who now did not recognise Adam at all. When asked where he was going, the father told Adam he was going to look for his wife (she had been dead for a number of years).
Adam tried to question the father hoping to jolt his memory, but when he asked, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you recognise me at all?”, the father was clueless.
Speaking to ‘Mac Taylor’ the boss, Adam with tears in his eyes, revealed that as a child, he was verbally and physically abused by the father who, because of an injury had to ditch his lifelong dream of being an athlete. It was not the road Adam chose, and consequently, his father treated him badly.
Mac questioned, “Why do you visit?” Adam replied, “I’m his son.” He continued that he wanted acknowledgement, an apology even, and admitted he felt nothing for the father.
Mac pointed out that Adam did indeed feel, because he continued to visit, and the love was evident. Holding on to the anger will not help but he should try to let go and live.
While all families with Alzheimer’s patients may not have experienced the negativity Adam did, it is still difficult for them to cope. Recently, Pope Francis spoke about the throwaway culture with regard to the fate of many of our elderly, and he urged us to do our best to reverse it with love and care.
For those with relatives with this condition, I hope this quote would be an encouragement: “Although your loved one may not remember you or might do things that frustrate you, this is the time he/she needs you the most.” (Angie Nunez Merryman)
Mary, Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us.