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Dementia: Seemingly Stuck in Time?

Dealing with Dad's dementia: This week, I talk about how simple events like birthdays are now changed.

Many dread birthdays for the fear of getting older. But, for me, my birthdays now feel like I get younger each year because my papa’s perception of how old I am changes, sometimes within minutes, but never gets even close to how old I really turned on my recent birthday.

My 24th birthday was recently and that means close family dinners and around that day and throughout the week. It started on a recent Saturday for my brother and me—we’re twins—and while Papa was physically there, sometimes I didn't feel as though he was really there.

Every few minutes seems to be different with him, as if he is in a different mindset from one moment to the next. At one point in the night, I remember my papa leaning in and asking me when I wanted him to teach me how to drive. At another point, he became irritated when I ordered a glass of the house Merlot from the waiter. Though the waiter didn't even ask for my ID, my papa leaned in and complained to me that I wasn't old enough (though I have been for several years).

When I was younger, birthdays were full of memories with my papa. The days were packed full of recollections that he would actually recap throughout most of the day and reminisce on his favorites.

For example, I remember on my 18th birthday, papa and I drove a few hours together to an Indian casino, where the gambling minimum was 18 years old. The entire ride up to Jackson I was growing quite irritated as he just kept talking about all the things he used to remember me being like when I was younger.

For a good 20 minutes, he told me how long it took me to learn how to tie my shoes. Then for another 15 long minutes, he laughed about how many weeks it took for him to teach me how to pump myself on the swings at the school playground when I was in elementary school. At least an hour later, he moved on to how funny he thought it was when I was learning how to drive and would make any excuse to use the car—even excitedly ask to borrow the car and practice driving 10 blocks away to the library.

This part is still the same, but just comes to a halter at whatever age he has decided we are that day. It’s perplexing how papa’s memory works. He seems to piece together all the good parts, leaving out deaths and arguments, and forms his memory of events that way.

In a way, that is something I would like to learn from papa. Though he doesn’t do it purposefully, I would love to learn how to forget all the negatives, and hard times. Maybe that is something we can all take away from those with forms of dementia—that they live in the moment and keep the positive memories close.

RESOURCES:

The Cupertino Senior Center is a great resource for the community. Every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., a case manager is available to help with simple questions regarding Social Security, benefits, hiring in-home help and more. An appointment is required for more detailed issues. Additionally, a caregiver support group meets the second Thursday of each month from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center is located at 21251 Stevens Creek Blvd. 408-777–3150.

Edna Ward December 27, 2011 at 06:44 PM
Dear Nicole, thank you so much for the lovely columns you write. Your Papa must be very proud of you and you are such a loving daughter to speak so sweetly about your Papa. God bless you. A reader, Edna Ward
Nicole Baldocchi December 27, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Edna, Thank you for the kind words. I'd like to think he'd be proud if he fully understood. My family, not even my mom, hasn't had a chance to read any of them yet. So I think I'll get their opinion this week while they are all off work! Thanks again for reading!
Jeremy Barousse December 27, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I agree with Edna, this is a great column and thank you Nicole for sharing your experience with our community to create awareness about this terrible disease. Keep up the good work!
Nicole Baldocchi December 28, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Thanks for the kind words and for reading, Jeremy!

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