Coping with Alzheimer's - Tribute to a Caretaker

By  Terri Brantley  


My father suffered for several years with Alzheimer’s before his death. The last two of these he lived with my sister, whose unfailing strength, tolerance, patience, and love during this time are worthy of tribute. It was her sense of humor; however, that saved her sanity. During one of my visits, my father was caught snacking on seashells from an ornamental vase on her coffee table. I remember wincing at the sound of his dentures crunching down on those shells. “At least he’s chewing them up this time,” my sister said, as she calmly removed the vase from our father’s hands. To him, she said, “Are you hungry? Wouldn’t you rather have a sandwich or a bowl of soup?”

I also clearly recall laughing hysterically with her as she recounted his escapade during a visit to an adult day care center. Our father, before his journey into Alzheimer’s, was extremely, almost painfully modest, but Alzheimer’s plays cruel tricks with the brain, and makes people act totally out of character. My sister had left him at the center, but the staff had called her to come back and try to coax Dad out of their bathroom. By the time she arrived, he had come out on his own, but was totally naked and had proceeded to “streak” his fellow classmates, who were, by the way, all female. I am sure this was the highlight of the week’s activities at the center! My sister, her precious free afternoon lost, did not get upset, but patiently helped the man get dressed.
Throughout the experience, she continually found the humor hidden in otherwise heartbreaking situations. She seized the fact, during difficult episodes, that these were not the acts of the loving, modest, respectable father we had known, but instead, it was the disease that had taken charge of his brain. An outside observer might have judged her humor as cold, even heartless, but it was a vital means of coping, without which she would not have been capable of making our father’s last years as comfortable as they were. At times, she made a difficult situation look easy, but I know how incredibly hard it must have been. I will always be grateful for the sacrifices she made for our father and our family.

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