I was cleaning off my kitchen counter this afternoon and found some notes that I had made last August about Alzheimer’s and dementia. First, let me assure you that this was not the first time I had cleaned off my counter since August! The notes were on an old legal pad that more recently held my beach grocery list!
It is actually quite timely that I found these notes. The notes were from a personal meeting that my mom and I had with Teepa Snow at Canterbury Methodist Church in 2015. Teepa seems to be the guru of Alzheimer’s. She trains care givers on how to care for their patients.
I remember my Mom asking me to go with her one Saturday morning for our private meeting. I am sure I was less than excited about spending my day hearing about all the awful things that could be headed our way with this terrible disease called dementia.
We were carefully ushered into a small conference room where we met Teepa and proceeded to spill out guts. We told her everything that had happened in the last month to totally destroy our little world. Teepa listened to us and handed out kleenex. A lot of kleenex. I remember Teepa giving us advise and I am pretty sure that I sat there and thought “how does she know what we are going through.” I am certain that I did not give a lot of credit to some of her advise. After all, she was asking me to make a complicated situation even more complicated. There was no way I was going to take her advise and make my world more complicated than it already was.
So a year has almost passed since I sat down with Teepa and I am looking over the notes that I made:
- They lose their skill before they lose their strength. Amen to this!! Daddy may be 87 years old but he is strong! If he does not want to do something . . . he does not do it! He may not remember how to read a menu but he knows where he wants to go and where he wants to sit.
- Lose impulse control. YES! Dad’s filter is almost gone. He says what he thinks even if it is not appropriate. Fortunately no one has died of embarrassment and we can still laugh at some of the situations we find ourself in.
- Inability to make decisions or choices. Yep! I can see where this will be true over time. Many times he cannot make a decision because he does not understand the situation any more. Fortunately we can guide him and it appears he is making a decsion even when he is not.
- Self awareness changes. You better believe it!! I think that Dad becomes quiet when he is unsure of a situation. He may not remember who he is talking to or know where he is, so he withdraws. My once confident father is now not so confident. I remember my dad pointing out a disheveled old man and telling me to not ever let him go out in public looking that way. My dad was such a clotheshorse that I am sure I laughed and told him we would not have to worry about him turning into a disheveled old man. Not true! Some days he is still a dapper man and other days I have to wonder what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
- Looking for the familiar. We know this is true! Dad often wants to go home and by “home” we think he means that he wants to go somewhere that is familiar to him. Not necessarily an old address.
It is funny that on that Saturday a year ago, I just knew I was smarter than Teepa Snow. Well, the joke is on me!! I have learned so much from Teepa. I have learned how to redirect my dad to change his behavior. I have learned that home is not really home. I learned that a menu might as well be a periodic table. I have learned how to tell “stories” to get dad to return to his apartment at Brookdale. I have learned to disregard some of the statements that my dad proclaims. And, I have learned that my dad may not be the same man he was a few years ago but he is still my dad. He still loves me. He still smiles when we walk in the room and although his clothes may not always match, he is still a handsome man.
I have learned over the last year that many of my friends are walking this same journey with one of their loved ones and I have told all of them to Google Teepa Snow. There are many wonderful videos online that will help you educate yourself on Alzheimer’s and dementia.
If you are lucky enough to be in Birmingham the weekend of August 13th, you can hear her speak at Canterbury as part of their Beeson Forum. There is a fee to attend but it will be well worth your money. My mom is sending their sitters to hear her this year.
You might find that you sit there and say “not me, not my dad.” And if you do have these thoughts, I pray that you are correct. But if you are like me, you will find your notes a few months later and read over them and see how “spot on” Teepa Snow is in her presentation.
Dad has a lot of good days and for that we are thankful. Some of his days are not great and on those days I try to remember to say a prayer for my mom. I am thankful for all the people I have met on this journey. We are all learning and praying together.