Playing Along With My Dad’s Alzheimer’s Confusion
I wanted to make him comfortable in the best way I knew how
So what if he thought the hospital was a hotel?
I traveled with my parents as both a child and a teenager, the three of us soaking up the sun and sand, enjoying good art and great food. We discovered ancient history and recent culture, and I skipped school to study life. Mom always found interesting places to shop, eat, stroll, and linger. Dad knew where to find history, meet locals, and to slip off our tourist shrouds.
Before embarking on any journey, we’d plan where we’d go and what we’d see. Once back home, we’d critique the trip, rate the sights we’d seen, and catalog our experiences. If anything had somehow disappointed us, it was eventually laughed away to avoid ruining our memories of the experience. Talking about our trips together allowed us, two older-than-average parents and their youngest child, to form a shared lexicon, marking our history and detailing our wanderings.
My parents continued to travel long after I married and moved away. The postcards that marked their journeys were all displayed on my refrigerator, where I’d point out the shiny buildings, glorious mountains, and beaches they’d visited to my two growing boys.
The trip to Hawaii with a couple of their closest friends was my Dad’s last adventure. Everyone knew by then or at least suspected without ever saying it out loud, that Dad, at 78, was most likely in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Despite this realization, the report about Dad’s behavior in Hawaii still startled me: Leaving the hotel lobby scared him; he refused to sample the local foods; getting around the island flummoxed him. The most shocking part of all, however, was that during the trip, all Dad wanted was to go back home. This final, sad fact — a father I couldn’t even recognize, who had lost his spark to explore the world — told everything, far more than the eventual doctor visits.
But mostly for all of us, denial ruled our days. Months went by, until a year had passed.
However once the official diagnosis arrived, Mom, my two siblings, and I kept skirting the issue. Yes, his mind is…