So many times when I write about my dad and his Alzheimer’s the posts are about loss and sadness. Today I’d like to report that my mom, who is my dad’s primary caregiver, made a minor breakthrough and discovered that he can write his responses to questions.
Earlier this week they were having dinner and he started pointing for something on the table, as he often does. Mom got tired of playing 20-questions with him. She grabbed a little paper tablet from the countertop and a pen, handed it to him, and said, “Write down what you want.”
Immediately my dad wrote “Lima Beans.”
The next day, my mom had prepared steak for him for dinner. She cut it into small pieces for him as she does most of his food. But he wasn’t eating it. He was just pushing it around on his plate. That’s not terribly unusual because he has started to play with his food some and at times gets distracted by that as if he forgot it was something he should eat.
Mom got the tablet again and wrote, “Meat. Don’t like the taste. Can’t swallow it. Can’t chew it,” down the page as a list. “Circle the reason you aren’t eating the meat,” she said. Dad circled, “Can’t swallow it.”
Tears sprang into my eyes as Mom conveyed this story to me over the phone. I guess with Alzheimer’s we assumed he wasn’t able to think about the answer to the questions. What Mom found out is that he is not able to speak the answers. His handwriting is difficult, but not impossible to read, but his printing is pretty clear.
Dad’s home health aide suggested we get the dry-erase whiteboards.
Yesterday I went to store and bought a couple of whiteboards and extra markers for them.
I was still at my parents’ house when Mom started working on dinner. Dad was eating some warmed-up french fries to tide him over. I was sitting at the table beside him when he started pointing at something. All I could see in the line of his point was the pepper shaker. “Do you want the pepper?” I asked. He shook his head no. “The salt?” Again, no. I got the whiteboard and asked him to write it down.
“I need, ” he wrote and then stopped, like he didn’t know the next word. “If you can’t think of the word, Dad,” I said, “try to draw a picture of it.” He drew a square. Then continued to write, “to wipe my fingers on.”
He wanted a napkin. He was pointing across the table to where my mom usually kept the basket of napkins, but they weren’t there right then because Mom had cleared the table to make room for me and their laptop (I was trying to save photos for them from their old desktop onto their laptop).
Dad’s communication breakthrough coincided with a breakthrough of my own. I keep telling Dad, “It’s going to be okay. I know this situation isn’t ideal, but we’re doing okay. Mom is taking good care of you. You are doing good. I’m proud of you. We’re going to get through this together.” It’s like a litany I leave him with when I go.
I think yesterday, for the first time, I started to believe it myself.