I recently mentioned that my father has been suffering from increasingly serious dementia for almost four years, and these days his mind is pretty far gone. He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s Disease, but another type of dementia called Lewy Body Dementia.
The biggest difference between LBD and Alzheimer’s, is that people with LBD have an inconsistent degree of brain dysfunction that frequently changes from one day to the next, and sometimes even within the same day. They alternate between a temporary improvement of their brain function and then a worsening of their brain’s ability to function.
People with Alzheimer’s get steadily worse as the disease progresses and their brain function almost never temporarily improves, but continues to degrade. But both LBD and Alzheimer’s have the same inevitable and incurable outcome, which is the eventual destruction of all brain function, resulting in death.
Since my Dad has LBD, he currently has bad days in which he doesn’t remember or recognize me at all, and better days when he knows who I am, even though his ability to think clearly is still severely impaired. Today was one of his better days, and I was able to have a conversation with him. His end of the conversation seldom made much sense, as his mind moved back and forth from a weak grasp of reality to a state of delusion and incomprehension.
But he was still able to enjoy my company and our conversation, because even people with advanced dementia are still able to fully feel and experience their emotions, both good and bad, and to also sense the emotional states of other people around them. This is true of the people stricken with Alzheimer’s and also true for those who suffer from LBD. Even when their minds have lost almost all ability to think clearly, they can still feel their own emotions and perceive a sense of what emotions you are feeling, when you are with them.
Which is why it is important for me to stay as upbeat and happy as I can, when I visit my Dad. If I’m happy, he is usually able to be happy along with me. It doesn’t matter if most of what he says to me doesn’t make sense, and he doesn’t understand most of what I say to him, just as long as I can project feelings of happiness when I am with him, and help him to feel his own happiness, while he and I are together and we have our conversations.
This is not always easy for me to do, and some days are a lost cause no matter what I do. But I’ve had a lot of practice in the last four years, and unless he’s having a really bad day, I can usually be positive and upbeat enough for him to enjoy our time together. After all, no matter how far gone his mind is, he’s still my Dad, and I still love him, so I try my best to summon up some feelings of happiness to share with him.
Today was a good day for my Dad, and we had a conversation that both he and I enjoyed. I told him some stories from my misspent youth that made me laugh as I told them, because when I can laugh, he laughs with me, even if he doesn’t completely grasp what I am saying. With some of these stories, it’s actually an advantage for my Dad to not fully comprehend them, and you’ll soon see what I mean.
I told him about the time that my mother asked my friend and I to pick up a large refrigerator she bought at an estate sale, in a wealthy town nearby. Mom warned us that the woman running the estate sale was a very condescending and bossy “nose up in the air” type, with a very mean and nasty disposition. This just made my friend and I, both of us 19 years old at the time, and with similarly wise ass attitudes, all the more eager to meet her… Lol ;-)
The refrigerator was in the basement in the back of the house, where it would have to be moved out of a rear exit. So with my friend driving and me riding shotgun on the passenger side, both of us wore sarcastic smirks on our faces, as we drove his big wheeled and large tired Ford pickup truck from the street right over the professionally landscaped front lawn, right on by the side of the very large and ostentatious house, and straight into the super-sized backyard. My friend quickly shifted into reverse and backed right up to the door that led to the refrigerator.
Before we could open our doors to get out, The Queen Bee of Self Important Society rushed up to my window, her face shocked and flustered as she angrily exclaimed “You can’t do that!!!” Amping up the wise assitude of my smirking facial expression, I answered “Not sure why you’d say that Ma’am, since we just did do that.”
Her eyes grew wide as she nearly shouted back “THIS is a private estate! You can’t just drive all over the lawn with a truck here!” I changed my smirk into an appraising smile, as my eyes traveled the length of her shape with a leisurely full up and down, and then my voice low with suggestive intimation, I told her “You look kinda cute all hot and bothered like you are right now… What are you doing this Saturday night?” My friend cracked up and burst out laughing!
Her face turned bright red and her eyes grew even wider, as her mouth opened to speak, but her voice made no sound. Her breath rushed deep into her chest and then heaved back out, as she gasped loudly, then sputtered and screamed back at me an outraged “Well! I… NEVER!!!”
“At your age? Now that does surprise me…” I was quick to reply. “But hey, that’s not a problem at all, because I have, and I’ll be happy to teach you all about it.”
Well if looks could kill, I’d be dead, because she gave me a withering stare that would scare the Devil himself, as she hissed back “I am calling the police right now!”
“Was it something I said?” I asked calmly, as she turned her back on me and ran back towards the house.
We never did pick up my Mom’s refrigerator that day… and soon the grapevine started buzzing, as people from all around were talking about how we had blown our delivery, when certain things I said to the reigning and intimidating Queen of Estate Sales caused her to blow up in such dramatic fashion. There was much laughter about it too, as what I said to her was often repeated, and also exaggerated into more salacious versions, causing her even more embarrassment as all that gossip went on about it. Soon the story got so twisted around, that there were breathlessly scandalous claims in the coffee clutches, that she and I were now secretly lovers.
But I denied that rumor as soon as I heard it, and I made sure to set the record straight. I said that we only got to second base, where I stopped when I decided she wasn’t worth it. (Yes, I know… I was an evil young man back in those days, and please try to forgive me.)
But people were happy as they laughed about all the rumors, and how she lost her cool and looked the worse for our encounter, because that shrill and mean spirited shrew had insulted and angered more than a few folks many times, and they were quite delighted! The cops let my friend and I off with what was supposed to be a very stern warning, but their acting wasn’t Oscar worthy at all, as they were struggling to keep straight faces while giving us our stern warning.
My Mom did get rather mad at me, but eventually she got over it, and she got her refrigerator too. And my Dad? Well, he gave me a genuinely stern warning at the time, and he was stern enough that I had no doubt he meant it.
But that was all a long time ago, and today my Dad and I were both happily laughing as I talked about it. And these days, that’s all that really matters…