Band-aids.That’s what I’ll remember from the last two years of my Dad’s life.
The funny thing is, you normally associate them with children. I sported my share as a kid and applied many as a parent. But you don’t think of them as a geriatric mainstay, unless you’re dealing with the frequent falls that result from Alzheimer’s/dementia.
I’d heard the expression that we “come full circle” in our lifespans, and now understand how true that is. I didn’t have the up close experience of the aging process with my grandparents. But I have with my own parents, and particularly with my Dad over these past several years.
It began as a simple fall in the yard, on the grass, no harm done. Some time went by and then another fall. We thought it was the athletic flip-flops that he wore, so we threw them away when he wasn’t looking. Then another fall and we noticed that he was shuffling his feet when he walked. I thought it might be Parkinson’s, so I took him to his doctor. That visit began a three-year journey that only recently ended. His PCP did a variety of tests and sent him out to specialists, determined to figure out what was going on. By the time we got the diagnosis, more symptoms had appeared.
My Dad, always an outgoing people-person, had suddenly become quiet and introverted. When we gathered for holidays he stayed in the TV room, rather than joining us to socialize. He was growing increasingly forgetful, seemed depressed, and continued to have balance issues. The falls kept coming. Eventually, he lost his driver’s license after a hit and run fender bender in the neighborhood. It wasn’t the accident that surprised me most, but the fact that he drove away without telling anyone. We wouldn’t have known if the police officer hadn’t shown up at the door.
Once we knew about the dementia we began to understand what was actually happening inside my father’s brain.
But I’ll never forget the day that I really understood the magnitude of the situation, and of what was coming. My Dad looked at me with somewhat pleading eyes and said, “I asked your mother when we were going home and she said that we are home.” At that moment we were standing in the living room of his house.
Talk about the monster under the bed. Here was the man who could scare off the bad guys and perform amazing feats in a single bound, looking frail and unsteady. My inner child was shaking and I knew it would only get worse.
In February 2014 my Dad suffered a fall that put him in the hospital for ten days. His cognition had gotten so bad that he no longer threw his arms out, a normally involuntary response, and face planted on the hardwood floor. He suffered another fall in the hospital that resulted in additional days to his stay. After being discharged he went to a nursing home for follow-up care. He was placed in the Alzheimer’s/Dementia unit and I hated the fact that he was there. He wasn’t like those other people. Yet.
We hurried to make the house safer and tried to figure out how to keep him from falling again. I remember my brother and I going to pick him up at the end of his convalescent stay, and how happy I felt to be bringing him home. But it was short-lived. Despite home health care and efforts to teach him to use a walker, we just couldn’t keep him off the floor. My mother tried to keep an eye on him at all times, but it was impossible and he wouldn’t use the walker. He also began to have “sun down” syndrome, a period of agitation that generally occurs in the early evening. He would become angry and combative, using expletives that he had never used in front of us before. Another problem was that he no longer slept through the night. He was up and down, taking my mother with him.
I got so used to seeing him cut and bandaged, his bumps and bruises a variety of colors depending on where they were in the healing process. It amazed me that he hadn’t broken any bones yet.
We lived in constant fear of the next bad fall. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. That “when” came less than three months later and the band aids kept getting bigger.