Having Older Parents with Alzheimer’s

Living with Illness

Sandra was so ashamed of her father she hadn’t even told her best friend what had happened at Easter. She had picked up her father at his apartment to drive him to dinner at her sister’s when she noticed he was squirming in his seat. It reminded her of how her son acted when he needed to go to the bathroom. “Dad,” she had softly spoken to him. “Would you like me to pull over at the next rest stop so you can use the bathroom?” He had huffily replied that he was fine.

At first Sandra decided she had misjudged the situation. She feared that she had blundered. However, a few minutes later, she was convinced he needed to go to the bathroom. She spoke to him three more times and each time he denied he needed to relieve himself. To Sandra’s horror, when they arrived at her sister’s, her father had wet his pants.

Sandra and her sister were slowly beginning to realize that her father had Alzheimer’s disease, a disease that strikes about 4 million Americans. In the mid-1990’s, approximately 19 million Americans report having a family member with Alzheimer’s, and 37 million know someone with the disease. Sandra’s reaction of uncertainty in light of her father’s statements are typical. It is often very difficult at this early stage to recognize, manage, and accept this progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that is the most common form of dementia.

Two weekends later, Sandra was at a party and was introduced to her neighbor Betty’s mother. The older woman was attractively groomed and dressed and Sandra felt a pang of jealousy as she watched the older woman shake hands and chat with the guests. Later in the evening, she spoke to Betty. “Your mother is lovely,” Sandra said.

“Isn’t she? And would you believe,” Betty told Sandra with a sparkle in her eye, “that when she dressed for the party this evening, she put her Depends diaper on her head!”

Astonished, Sandra began to laugh. She and Betty had experiences to share, and she told her what had been happening to her father. Sandra left the party feeling wonderful; sharing with Betty had made her feel a part of a community struggling to make the transition to this new life cycle phase.

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