Monday, May 26, 2008

From Autism to Alzheimer's

Last week I was in California to visit my father in his new home, an assisted living residence for people with Alzheimer's and other sorts of memory disorders. I was apprehensive about his move to this facility — a place that I hadn't seen and had heard only a little about, so I just had to see it.

My mother had been caring for him for seven years — since he first went missing after dropping Sweet M, Fathersvox, and I off at LAX when we were returning to New York City in late August 2001. Recently she'd gotten a homecare aide two days a week, and that person was helpful, taking him for walks and helping around the house.

Unfortunately the walks seem to have given him the idea of starting to go on his own walks and three weeks ago he got up very early in the morning and went down the long steep road that leads to my parents' home. Apparently he was walking back up the hill when he fell down and cut his arm. He couldn't get back up, so a neighbor helped him into her home, and called the sheriff, who took him to the ER. The fire department came to my parents house to make sure my mom was okay and all the doors were wide open.

Then the hospital wouldn't release him back to my mom's care. They said it wasn't safe for him. They said it wasn't safe for her. So after seven years of home care, my mom agreed that he could go into an assisted living facility.

The assisted living place is beautiful: a putting green for anyone who still has a golf swing, swimming pool for those who still have a stroke, a playground for visiting children, a gardening area for residents who want to puttering and plant, a billiards table for the pool sharks among them, and pets of all kinds, including parrots, parakeets, and cockatiels, a terrier, a poodle, a shepherd and a hutch of bunnies. There were music performances and music therapists. Probably a 3:1 overall patient to caregiver ratio. All the caregivers seem to know all the residents names.

And my father seems content. Almost happy. More engaged than I've seen him in since four years.

Of course he doesn't really recognize me anymore. Or if he does, it's probably some sort of vague sense of connection rather than any knowledge of relationship. He smiles when he sees me. He doesn't know my name. Somehow my father is gone, and this new person has arrived in his place: a fragile, sweet, gentle old man who is so different than the father I grew up with.

I started to call him by his name rather than Dad, much as Sweet M calls me by name rather than calling me mom because it's easier for her that way. At first I thought I'd started calling him by his name because it was less confusing to him, and easier for the care providers around him. Now I think I was fooling myself. I've made the change because it's less confusing for me. It's goodbye to Dad and hello to Dan.


Anonymous said...

beautiful post. i'm so glad your Dan's in such a lovely place.

mommy~dearest said...

Alzheimer's is so difficult. I've lost 2 grandparents and 2 Aunts to it- and it was very hard each time, to adjust the relationships once their recognition started to fade. I worry about my mother, and wonder if I will be able to adjust with someone so close to me.

It's good that your Dan (I like that Kyra) is doing well in his new digs. I certainly helps when you can have faith that loved ones are receiving the best care.

Anonymous said...

My husband has Lewy Body Dementia, not Alzheimer's. But with LBD, I notice changes in cognition that bear some resemblence to Autism. The specialist asked my husband to spell the word "world". Then he said "now backwards." My husband said:"B-A-C-K..." He indeed couldn't spell a 4 letter word backwards. If anyone is interested in Lewy Body Dementia (the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer's look up the Lewy Body Dementia Association at

Anonymous said...

Its a scary world out there but Pam I gotta hand it to you.. Seems like your living the "notebook" (movie) life. I mean no matter what gets between you and your husband, the love between the both of you is stronger than any drug or disease..

memory disorders said...

Hello friend very professional and useful information about From Autism to Alzheimer's, I'm very interesting in this topic about Alzheimer because my grandma suffers of this disease.

Elvin Jijo said...

nice post thanks for sharing. Early signs of autism

Helen Whitworth said...

I've worked with Lewy body disorders for several years. Yes, it has similarities to autism. Perhaps the most obvious are the language problems. People with LBD tend to have difficulty communicating much earlier than those with Alzheimer's.