Mixed messages and Alzheimer’s

Dad was waiting for Mom to help him get up when I walked into the bedroom. He was lying on his back on a diagonal in the middle of the queen-size bed, wrapped in the top sheet. I sat down beside him and accidentally sat on his bent knee. “Oops,” I said as I stood back up right away. “I bet that didn’t feel good.” He just continued to look at me with a rather blank expression.

“Do you know who I am?” No response.

“It’s okay if you don’t know who I am,” I said. “I’ll just tell you.”

Here’s the miracle for the month.

“You’re my youngest daughter,” Dad said.

Count them. Four words. Five if you count the contraction. A complete sentence.

“You’re right,” I answered. “I’m your youngest living daughter.” I wasn’t going to mention Annie‘s name which always makes him cry. But technically she is or was his youngest daughter.

I decided to sit down again. “This time I’m going to try not to sit on you,” I said. And he looked like he might laugh. He looked like he thought that was funny, as I had intended it to be. Then all of a sudden his facial features shifted into the sad theatrical mask and he was crying. That fast.

The doctor said that Alzheimer’s can cause miscommunication in the brain. So even though a person may feel like laughing, what actually happens is they cry. That causes confusion for family members who now don’t know why the person is sad. But it might also cause all kinds of confusion for Dad who may not understand why people are responding to him the way they now are. And the sad fact of the matter is, because he is so non-communicative, I will never know.

Anyway, I was thrilled with Dad’s monologue and told my mom. She thought it was a good thing that Dad called me his youngest daughter. She thought that meant that he remembers Annie has died. I’m not so sure, because I think if he was fully cognitive and remembered that Annie died, he would still count her among his daughters. But I’ll never know.

And it really doesn’t matter.

Mom brought Dad out to the kitchen table where I sat down beside him. He looked straight at me—again a fairly unusual thing recently. And for a heart beat I expected to hear him ask about Mark, or what car I drove up there, or tell me about something he had heard on the news or read in the paper.

For a heartbeat.

Then he looked away and started rubbing the table top making long solid strokes like it was a fine piece of wood he had sanded to a soft satin finish.

Just like I used to watch him do so many times in the past.

Wooden tray Dad made for us one year for Christmas

22 thoughts on “Mixed messages and Alzheimer’s”

  1. Wow, how special that he could articulate who you were. However, I’m sorry for the confusion that might make him cry instead of laugh–how hard that must be for all of you! I love these posts about your dad, Christine–so sweet–tender-dear.

  2. Hi Christine .. my mother couldn’t cry with her strokes … wonderful post about your father though .. some happy moments – and then that tray will be around to remind you of his strong presence .. the wood, the shine, and the fact he is your father … many thoughts to you and your mother .. Hilary

    1. That’s interesting, Hilary, although I imagine equally as frustrating. The tray and other things he made as well. I love having physical objects made by someone’s hands. It’s such a great keepsake.

    1. Yes, he is. Today my brother was in town and was helping to widen a doorway for his wheelchair. Dad held a little flashlight and shone it on where my brother was working. Usually his attention span is limited, but not today. He held that light spot on, the entire time.

  3. I never knew how priceless a conversation was with my Mom untill her illness. The things she doesn’t understand anymore I go home and write a letter to her to try to make myself deal with this lost communication.

    1. I’m glad you’ve found a way to deal by writing the letter. I haven’t done that yet, although I have begun to work on a memoir. It’s hard for me to remember him the way he was. Right now I feel stronger if I just deal with what is in front of me. I hope to be able to reclaim my memories of him with time.

  4. Am now caring for mother with Vitas home hospice. She’s 88 and two weeks ago was zipping around the grocery store and doing laundry. Stage 4 cancer advanced throughout abdomen, liver and lungs.

    1. I can’t believe how fast this is all happening to her and you, Carl. Thinking of you. I hope your mother is able to stay comfortable. Hospice here was a tremendous help in keeping Annie comfortable at the end.

  5. Christine, this made me cry both with sadness and happiness for you heart-beat moment of joy in your Dad’s recognition..
    The tray is so lovingly crafted… and my heart reaches out to you and all families who have to go through all the turmoil of emotions that you have had to.. Alzheimers is a terrible disease.

    Love and Blessings ~Sue

    1. You’re right about that. The small moments are precious. I wish I would have started storing them up years ago, before they became so few and far between.


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