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I Like Learning.

Submitted by Beth Self (Katy, Texas)

Learning more about Alzheimer's helped me better connect with my Dad.

I have watched my Dad’s progression with Alzheimer’s for the past 13 years, from the first early signs until his passing last December. Along the way, I felt our relationship as father and daughter slipping away, and I felt myself withdrawing from him. As it progressed, I didn’t know how to reach out to him and make a real connection. I was afraid and sad. I spent a lot of time visiting my parents, and took him shopping for gifts for Mom at holidays, but felt estranged from our relationship of father and daughter. I went home from each visit stressed out and depressed. I was upset with myself for not doing more to reach him.

During his last year, I helped my Mom come to terms with his worsening condition, and we were able to get him into an Alzheimer’s Day program at a local church. They met one day a week, for 4 hours, and had a great time! We were afraid my father would not like it, but he loved going there. He didn’t remember the experience later, but each time we went, he reacted the same way, with happiness. And why not? They met him at the door with coffee and donuts; they had music time and programs with the children from the day care program; they played volleyball with beach balls, with the less mobile people sitting in chairs; they had crafts; they had lunch; and they ended each day with bingo – with candy rewards. There were about two volunteers per Alzheimer’s patient, so they had a lot of personal attention. This finally started me thinking.

If Dad was able to respond to them, what could I do for him at home? I began reading articles online, bought a book for Mom to help her as caregiver, and attended, with Mom, a seminar for caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients. I usually respond to problems by learning more about them to help me better deal with them, but I think because I didn’t want my Dad to have this disease, I hadn’t wanted to learn more about it. My “ah-ha” moment came at the seminar, when one of the leaders was describing a very empathetic approach to persons with any form of dementia. You have to remove all of your expectations of that person, and just try to be with them, reflecting back their feelings with understanding. It was such a breakthrough for me.

Later that day, I went home, and asked Dad if he would like to play a game, just the two of us. He came to the table, and we just played a simple game of concentration…the kind you play with your kids when they are very young, with cards. I quickly found what level of memory play he could succeed at, and we used 4 cards, having him match them together. He enjoyed this one-on-one time so much that we sat and played like that for 40 minutes! It was the first time that I felt we were both engaged with each other in a very long time, and I could see him glowing with the personal attention.

After that, I found I could relate to my father better, just because I had learned to remove my expectations and relate to him on his level.

I like learning. I loved my father.