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A Long Distance Caregiver No More

Bill and I expected that there would be a period of adjustment for my Dad upon his move to Denver.  For one thing, we understood that the change in altitude from near sea level to mile-high would stress his system. As a man with heart problems and mild COPD, I was sure his adjustment would be difficult.  I remembered my move from Green Bay to Colorado in 1974 and the long afternoon naps that became a necessity for several weeks.  A man of his age, I knew, would need even more time to acclimate.

Another factor that we did not anticipate was his decision to give up his habitual afternoon cocktail hour and, indeed, the consumption of any alcoholic beverages at all.  Since a drink or five had been his daily habit for more than 50 years, stopping cold turkey was certain to have a profound effect on him.

We understood that much, but we didn’t have the training or experience to determine just how he might be reacting to this one variable in the whole mix of change that he was dealing with—a new city, a new place to live, new staff to relate to, new fellow residents, new doctors.  And we three were new to our roles with one another, without the history of a day to day connection to help Bill and me to see changes with any clarity, nor the kind of trust on Dad’s part that supports open talk about anything deeply personal.

This is where my confusion began in earnest.  It was not hard for me to give up the fantasy of afternoon lemonade on the patio or the stimulating lectures that we might attend together.  After all, the man needed time to rest and adjust to his new situation.  Maybe later.  But how much of what we were seeing with him was a state that would pass in time and how much was truly him now at this stage of his life?

Eight years earlier, Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease by a Central Florida neurologist.  Our observations of Dad both before and after the diagnosis did not support it  Unless the drug Aricept is lots more effective than it is said to be, Alzheimer’s isn’t what he has.  When I pressed this doctor, asking precisely why he thought it was Alzheimer’s in particular, he responded, “What does it matter?  The result is the same anyway.”  I still feel a little desperate when I think about that doctor.

Dad is forgetful though, and has been for many years.  But I can say the same thing about myself.  Twenty years ago my son gave me a cup with “CRS Disease” on one side and “Can’t Remember Shit” inscribed on the other.  Things have not improved much since then in the memory department for me.  With Dad I never know if his forgetfulness has to do with some kind of real dementia or if he doesn’t want to take the trouble to remember or if it’s his way of saying “Leave me alone” or if he’s just having a bad day.  Or something else I haven’t considered.  And eventually I learned that there wasn’t going to be anyone who could help me figure it out. Maybe it was then that I began to realize that there were going to be many more challenges ahead for us than we had ever dreamed.

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