Dad Does Not Remember Me… Dementia Care

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Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s family care tips by francy Dickinson

George in wheelchair

George watching the Seahawks game in his wheelchair

Dear Francy: I visited my dad last week and he did not remember my name or who I was — I was heartbroken. I don’t think I can make myself go and visit him any more…its so hurtful that he could just forget me. S.

I totally understand the mixed feelings you have inside…it is so hard on everyone involved with the care and love of a senior with dementia or brain disorders.

I want to share something my mother told me when I was care giving for her. She was 100 years old and she had this talk with me after one of her small strokes. She had a series of these strokes and they were always scary but she would rest and perk back up. She wanted to tell me how she felt. “When someone has a newborn baby…the parents and the whole family look for the small changes and growth in the child. When the baby smiles, starts to follow your finger with their eyes, turns over, crawls and walks..the family rejoices in each small step. I am doing that backwards. Each time I have one of the strokes I take a step back. My hands may get weaker, my eyes weaker, I can concentrate shorter periods of time, I walk slower. It’s just small baby retractions…instead of improvements. I am getting worse day by day. Just like babies get better day by day. It is very frightening to me…but I can not change what is happening.” I will always remember her explanation of aging and decline.

Losing abilities and knowing they will not come back is not only frightening for the elder with dementia…but it’s heartbreaking for the close spouse and family members.

To me, its like a small part of the person has left. Leaving means grieving. So in a way, you are starting to grieve the loss of your family member. They may be alive and you maybe sitting next to them…but the part of them that was special and intimate to you has changed…never to return. I have spent many a day grieving and crying over losing parts of my husband, George. One day he is getting up to go and make a cup of tea and the next he is unable to get out of his chair alone, let alone make tea. At first you think, well he will be stronger tomorrow…but tomorrow never comes.

What I have done is allow myself to grieve…to be down and dirty with sadness. I remove myself from my senior and do my tears and anger in another room away from their presence. I often take a walk and clear my mind…and then I return.

When I do return…something has happened. Both of us have changed. I know that George has taken another step backwards and he sees me with a smile on my face and a “begin again” attitude. Because that is what I do. I reset my mind and we begin the day again, with me taking the senior’s small or large change into my care giving routine. I remove my feelings of sadness and I deal with what is in front of me. A person that I love, that is in need of care and I have to give them love in return. Maybe the care is now on a higher level, but the senior is in need of even more of my love and attention.

I know that everyone has a button…yours was your name and your relationship with your dad. I get that…and you should talk about this loss and interact with family and friends over it. You may want to go to your minister, or an older person that has always given you good advice and discuss the loss of your dad’s awareness of you. Call and pay for a professional therapy session, let a professional give you tips on how to work through the bit, by bit…loss of your dad. You may want to start a journal and write down how you feel…and how it has changed how you feel about your own life. Work it out. Because your dad is still here in the world. He is still in need of your love and if the table was turned…he would be sitting there next to you, as you traversed the lonely journey of dementia.

What you do not want to do…is to use your pain and your dad as an excuse to go back to patterns that are unhealthy for your own life. You do not need to use your dad to start to drink, take drugs or harm yourself in any other way. This is not about you…this is about your dad…and your feelings of grief. Its your job work those feeling now, so you can have a healthy emotional life as you go beyond the loss of your dad. Do not ignore the sadness, don’t just shrug your shoulders and think it will not effect your life. You need to be in good health and solid mind to support your mother or other close relatives…so be aware that grief is a personal experience. Everyone goes through the sadness, so sharing it with those that have experienced their own grief and worked through the loss is the way you can stay strong for yourself and your family.

When you have worked on the ideas of who you are without your father’s acknowledgement..then return to his side. Treat him as you would anyone. You start by introducing yourself…”Hi Dad, it’s Stacey– your first and best ever daughter!” And then you sit and slowly talk about your life. Yes, maybe its a wasted visit, because the information will come and go from his mind. But I don’t believe that it’s wasted…I believe and have seen that elders that are visited often, are more responsive and calm during their days. They process their daily life chores in a different way than those that are left on their own and forgotten in the facilities or in their own homes.

I am a deep believer that family and friends are there for life. That means even when someone is unwell…or taking a journey through an incurable cancer, brain or dementia condition…they are there and they are in need of support, love and prayers. You have to work through those inner feelings of rejection and loss…and come out on the other side with the basic love you have always felt for your dad. That love has to now take a new change and express itself with selfless gifting of love and time to your elder…so they can have someone by their side in their journey. No one should be alone at the end of their life..no one…and you will see that you will find the strength to be there with him. You just need to step back and accept the pain, work through your feelings and return to your dad as his cheerleader of life. Together you will support each other in love and even if your visits are quiet…with you reading, sitting next to him….he will feel your love.

Bringing your life and your view of the outside world to your father is the gift you can give. Yes, you will be upset after the visit…but you will go through your own long life ahead with a knowing that you gifted your love to your dad…even on the hardest days of his life. You were there.

I honor your gift of love. Blessings, francy

Would you be kind enough to sign up for the blog on the right of your screen. I am giving George more and more of my time…so this way…you will get my blog sent to you when I have a few minutes to share. Please do send this along to a friend that is going through issues that are similar ~ I would be very grateful.