The Great Brain Robbery
Ask Baby Boomers what they fear most about aging and the majority will say they are afraid of losing precious memories and recognition of familiar faces to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They are afraid of needing around-the-clock assistance with even the simplest tasks. My dad, Clarence Weaver, a proud Navy veteran of World War II, would have agreed.
Pop had diabetes, two heart attacks, an irregular heartbeat and surgery to remove his gall bladder and half of his stomach. He was blind in his right eye and wore hearing aids in both of his ears. He outlived any physician’s statistical predictions, but it was my mother, five years his junior, who was diagnosed with cancer and died a few months later. They were married 57 years.
He was lost without her but carried on, keeping the house as tidy as he could – she had given him instructions – doing his own laundry and basic cooking. When the phone call came that he had suffered a stroke, we naturally assumed he would recover and return home. And that’s what happened after a month in rehabilitation. He went home.
The day we picked him up from the rehabilitation center, he told me I was driving the wrong way when I didn’t take a shortcut to his house. He dictated a grocery list and balanced his checkbook without the aid of a calculator. We left with his assurance he would fill his prescriptions and take care of himself.
But, as I would discover after he died, Pop didn’t fill the prescriptions. Six days later, he suffered another stroke, returning to the same medical center, where it was immediately apparent that there was a glitch in his memory.
He returned to rehab … then back to the hospital … and then to a nursing home where he would reside the rest of his life. Doctors told me the second stroke, caused by his irregular heartbeat, sent shards of plaque into his brain and affected areas that control short-term memory.
As Pop became more confused, he repeatedly asked the same questions: How did I find him? What is this place? A jail? A boat? Did I have a nice Christmas? How was the traffic? And, the toughest question of all, had I spoken to my mother? For the first time in my life, I lied to my father.
Eventually, Pop stopped asking the questions. We spent our visits seated in front of a large picture window where we would watch motorcycles, cars and Amish buggies pass by. We shared an experience, but as soon as the vehicles were gone from his sight, they were gone from his memory.
He fell once again. Less than two months later, at the age of 87, he was reunited with my mother as I know he wanted to be. His memories were gone, but mine remain.
Have you been the caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? Share your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Bonnie Martin, Editor