Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Alzheimer's Disease... A Personal look.

Life at it's very best can still toss hurdles our way. Hurdles that can sometimes truly test the faith and love of a family. I have often written on care-giving and on the care-givers part in the maintaining of dignity of those we are caring for. That role, played by those that have someone that needs assistance in their daily routine applies to many illnesses. Whether the illness be one that cripples the physical body or the mind, keeping their dignity should always be priority one.
 Today, I want to talk about one particular illness. One that has found it's way into my families life and open up a whole new world of what to do's for all of us. My father, a man that has enhanced my life more than I could ever convey here, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease about a year ago. Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia, a term used to describe a group of brain disorders that cause memory loss and a decline in mental function, over time. In fact, Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 5.3 million men and women in the United States. The numbers seem staggering at a glance but they become much more powerful when that number is reduced to one. One member that is a part of your life.
 Watching the progression of this disease leaves those that are looking on with so many emotions. Not in any way wanting to take away from the emotional roller-coaster that it places the inflicted on, I am giving you a "birds-eye view" of what is seen and experienced by those that love the Alzheimer's patient. Slight and easily given to the saying "it comes with age", the beginning doesn't really bring any remarkable actions from anyone. As the disease progresses, we, as a family, begin to watch closer, observing a greater loss of "short term" memory. My Father remembers anything that he lived from nearly birth to almost present day. In his daily routine, he may simply forget he has told you a story moments before re-telling the same exact tale. He has gone for a drive to the store and completely forgotten why he was in that parking lot. Not every minute nor even every hour is a forgotten time but more often than average.
 The driving issue brings to surface the reason I blog on this subject today. Recently, it was discovered that my Father's drivers license had expired nearly a year ago. Something that many, including myself have done at one time or another in our lives. This brought up the question, should he or should he not have it renewed. I wondered if he could even do so, being diagnosed with the illness. I put a call into our DOT {department of transportation} and presented the question to them. I was a bit surprised at the answer I received. DOT informed me that they ask the same question of anyone applying for a license. "Do you have any physical or mental disease that might impair your driving?" If the answer is no, a license is issued, providing of course that all requirements have been met. Should the applicant answer they have Alzheimer's, they are asked if it effects their ability to drive. If the answer is no, then the license is issued. IF they answer that it might, the DOT requires a written statement from the applicant's Doctor stating if the Doctor feels it is safe for the patient to possess a license. The issuing is then based on the Doctors opinion.
 Because of an incident in which a person was killed by a driver that suffered from advanced Alzheimer's, a concerned was raised as to whether my Father should simply choose NOT to have his license renewed. Opinions had been given by each of my siblings and myself. I asked him to take time in deciding if he would or would not renew. The conversation was gentle and extremely emotional at the same time. I told him that he had given to his kids for 50 years, anything that we needed, especially when it came to needing a ride somewhere or a vehicle when one of ours was down. I presented it to him as a way of us kids giving back to him what he had for so long and so freely given to all of us. Though it was a plea for him to make the choice NOT renew, he responded in a way that I did truly understand.
 Freedom and the ability to take care of himself was being threatened. It was not so much about not having a license any longer. It was about the fact that by not renewing, he was losing a huge part of his freedom. I learned long ago that losing ones freedom, for whatever reason, is one of the most frightening and disappointing losses in an Elderly persons life. They feel as if they are now at the mercy or burdening the people that care for them. In essence, they lose a bit of the dignity that comes with being able to care for their own needs, simply by driving to the store or Barber or where ever they might want to go, on their own. Thinking about driving, something we so often take for granted, unless we find ourselves without a vehicle, I realized how much I myself hate having to ask someone to take me somewhere if my car isn't running. That feeling, tacked on to the fact that a person with Alzheimer's may already be dependant on someone to do things for them they have done for themselves for 75 years and you have a great feeling of loss. The thought of "what more is going to be taken from me" is Very real for them. I believe that perhaps even a little bit of fear that they may become too much for the family is certainly setting right in the doorway, waiting to come inside of them.
 Do I still feel that my Father should Not renew his license? A part of me, the part that loves him very much and fears that harm may come to him or someone else says Yes. Most definitely. Does another part of me fully understand my Father's desire and reasoning for wanting to renew? Yes, absolutely, yes!!! What will we as a family do about this newest situation in our lives? We will do as we have always done best. We will band together as a family and do whatever is needed to make the situation as comfortable and safe as possible for all involved. My Father opened my eyes just a little more concerning preserving the dignity of those we love. He helped me understand a little more how easily it can appear that your freedom is being taken away. He also showed me that the freedom to make your own choices is something that can be frightening when the thought of losing that is present.
 I will pray God's watchful eyes on him and God's touch to give my Father the wisdom to know when it is time to chose differently.

2 comments:

Susan said...

Hello, beautiful piece here, you drive your point right where it needs to go. Much of what you say here is not always thought about with any form of dementia. Your extreme love for your family and wanting the best shines through with every word. I pray God shines his warm loving grace on you and your Father.

Darrel said...

Thank you so much for reading this. It comes from my heart and yes, My Father is my best friend and I want to see him make his way through this as well as can be done. Alzhiemer's is a terrible illness that takes the most precious element of our being away. Our Memories. God bless you for your words.

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