Wednesday, June 1, 2011


I have commented before on the most popular question people ask me about my father's dementia. "Does he still recognize you?" is the standard query that everybody has; the unimaginable possibility that everyone seems to think about and fear. It's as if the symptoms of dementia have been boiled down and condensed into one easy-to-understand, if hard-to-experience event. Forget wandering and hoarding, blanking on words and memories, taking the car keys away; this is the only symptom of note-the most difficult.

Funnily enough, it isn't the hardest for me. I don't honestly know whether my dad recognizes me anymore. I haven't heard him say my name in months, maybe a year or more. I think he knows there's some connection between us, but whether he knows precisely what that is, what role I play in his life, I have no clue. When we took him for a drive we kept studying my face intently, I don't know why. I kept taking off my sunglasses and smiling at him in case he was trying to see and place my face in what remains of his mind. When I smiled at him, he didn't really smile back or respond in any way, but I noticed he kept looking at me. I think perhaps, he doesn't know me anymore, and I've had time to come to grips with that.

No, what really bothers me about the dementia isn't my father forgetting who I am. It's the loss of dignity for what was a proud, reserved, principled man. It's seeing that he's wearing a diaper full time now, and knowing that someone must always help him in the bathroom; and knowing how very much he would hate that. It's seeing doctors push and pull him around and examine him without his having any idea of what's going on, or why he must endure this. It's knowing that years ago, he could have fixed every single element in the Corvair engine we showed him, and could have explained exactly why it worked as he was doing it. It's watching my once strong, athletic father shuffle carefully along with help from his caregiver.

These are the things that really bother me. So he doesn't remember me any more. Yes, that's very, very hard and very sad. It's the complete loss of dignity, though, that really bothers me, and which is, to me, the ultimate and most difficult, symptom of dementia.


  1. You are right. Alzheimer's is all this and more. If outsiders only knew. Mom says my name a lot but when I answer she does not say a word. I think she remembers Karen but does not know that I am Karen.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear that. Hang in there, this is a tough one, and take care of yourself!