Dad Has Dementia

Week 11: Fear and Loathing in La Casa

Last updated: Mar 26, 2010


Dad wears a special bracelet. It has a button he can push if he experiences any kind of problem that requires assistance. You might recognize it from the "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials. Different company; same service.

He wears the bracelet grudgingly yet graciously. He doesn't think he needs it. I do.

The bracelet is emblematic of my fears: that Dad will fall and break a hip while Lee and I are at work; that he'll have a stroke and be unable to reach the phone; that he'll accidentally lock himself out of the house. And those represent only the tip of the iceberg.

The other morning, I peeked in on Dad as he slept. He didn't appear to be breathing. A surge of anxiety hit me, landing like a stone in my stomach. Then Dad took a deep, shuddering breath, and I relaxed. The incident drove home to me, however, how much fear I now live with on a daily basis.

I know Dad's time on earth is limited. He's in poor physical shape. His body is winding down. My mom, siblings, and I agree that the focus should be on giving Dad as much quality of life as possible; we can't affect the quantity of his life very much anymore. And so, I take an attitude of palliation regarding Dad's medical condition. Non-invasive tests? Fine. Medications? Sure. But beyond that? No heroic measures.

My intellect knows this is the best course. My emotions still run amuck whenever Dad seems physically frail or failing.

It's a strange sort of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I fervently hope Dad "“ the man who has spent more time in hospital beds than any human being should have to endure "“ will die at home, asleep in his own bed. On the other hand, I'm terrified I'll discover him just that way.

Or maybe it's not Dad's death I fear; it's the slow dying. The possibility that he'll fall and break his hip and suffer for hours until someone finds him. Or that he'll have a non-lethal yet incapacitating stroke while he's all alone, with no one to help him.

Dad, however, feels all of my concerns are nonsense. He's very careful to avoid situations in which he might fall. He uses his walker religiously. And a stroke? That only happens to other people.

So, the bracelet also is emblematic of loathing. Dad loathes aging, and he loathes being reminded of his frailty. The bracelet reminds him of both.

And yet, Dad wears the bracelet without complaint. Whenever the security service person's disembodied voice suddenly emanates from the speaker next to Dad's recliner, he responds pleasantly.

He does this because he loves me, even though he still can't quite believe I'm his daughter. I would say I'm grateful, but that just doesn't capture the way my heart nearly bursts with love for him. And it reminds me why I began this journey in the first place.