Understanding is impossible

I had a moment yesterday.  It was one of those “eureka” moments when for just a brief fraction of time, I thought I had learned something about Alzheimer’s disease.  They don’t happen very often but when they do, my heart fills with hope and for that little moment in time, I think we may be moving in a positive direction.  It never lasts.

Alzheimer’s is disease is a trickster.  There are days on end when the repetitive cycles of my Dad’s brain just wear us all down.  But then, something happens and my Dad (the one I know and love) resurfaces.  Conversation flows normally and he exhibits the social skills that made him such a success in business and personal relationships.  Just when you take a deep breath, preparing to enjoy this moment of clarity, it is gone again.

Since moving to the assisted living facility, Mom has gotten a lot of attention from the staff.  She is getting physical, occupational, and speech therapy.  Dad gets little more than acknowledgment of his presence there.  I guess most aren’t motivated to engage someone in conversation that won’t remember it two minutes later.

While visiting yesterday, Dad was once again stuck in that endless loop of five questions that I respectfully answered with each cycle.  It’s always the same and it is always exhausting.  But then, the therapist showed up to give Mom some speech/mental exercise.  For thirty minutes, my Dad sat quietly observing the therapy session, holding my hand, and occasionally whispering the answers to the questions to me.  He was literally – in the moment.  For thirty minutes, my Dad was normal again.  It was stunning to watch.  And, when the therapist finished, it was over.  What flipped the switch in my Dad’s brain?  How could he be perfectly normal for 30 minutes and then instantly revert back to the loop of five questions?

Driving home, my mind was racing with ideas of how we, as his family, could initiate a similar response as the therapist.  Was it focus?  Was it structure?  Was it her demeanor that demanded respect and attention?  What did she have that we don;t?

I raced inside to call my brother, wanting to share the experience with him and brainstorm with him on how we could use this experience to enhance our time with Dad.  As the realist in the family, my brother simply said – “you’re trying to make logic where none exists”.  He’s right.  Understanding the Alzheimer’s brain is impossible for an average person like me.

The lesson is clear.  These moments are rare and precious and should be cherished rather than analyzed.

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