Alzheimer's Daughter

The Story

Alzheimer’s Daughter introduces the reader to my healthy parents, Ed and Ibby, years before their diagnosis, then recounts painful details as our roles reversed and I became my parents’ parent.

Their disease started as translucent, confused thoughts and ended in a locked memory care unit after a near decade of descent into the opaque world of Alzheimer's.

I began writing Alzheimer’s Daughter one week after my mother's death––when I was stunned, realizing Dad had no memory of her or their 66-year marriage.

I write to pay tribute to the undying spirit at Ed and Ibby's core, and with the hope that the story of their parallel decline might be helpful to others.

Chapter 12- Locked Away

* * *
April 2, 1944
My Dearest Ibby,
Honey, Dave and Jim expect to leave anytime. They have shipped out 400 men from our base so far. We are hardened to it, and to me if we are ever going to win this war, let’s make a big push and get it over. I mean that’s the only practical way.
Helen’s baby stands up now. I wish it was us dear and I wasn’t in the Army. I like kids about that age.
Honey, we have a lot to expect from life. You say, “For us I guess it isn’t so terrible because we already have happiness and our love. All we need is a home together, and a family to make our life brim full.” I agree we are as in love as two people could be.
About our happiness together, I think we have had a very small share of that, considering what we will have.
I love you with all my heart.
XOXOXO Love forever, Ed
* * *
Annette and I knew this move would be unlike any other. There would be no opportunity for our parents to give input, argue or disagree. It was fact we had no choice but to move them. This was certainly not a move any of us wanted.  No other course of action existed.
With wind chills well below freezing, I picked my sister up at the airport late on the evening of December 21, 2008. While driving home, we discussed how we should tell our parents about this move. We were quite certain no one at Lakeview Reserve had mentioned they had to move out. Our primary goal was to move them lovingly, calmly, efficiently, and without upset. We decided we’d play it by ear the next morning.
I felt sick and threw up during the night. Annette tossed and turned. The wind howled all night at fifty miles per hour. The freezing torrent outside matched our internal turmoil. We woke bleary-eyed, but resolute––knowing we had no choice but to do what we dreaded.
By morning the wind had died down slightly and was replaced by a heavy freezing rain. During our drive to Lakeview Reserve, we lamented the regression in Ed and Ibby since we moved them out of their home. Two years ago, they had the cognitive ability of about fifth graders. They had basic, but rapidly dwindling understanding of dates, time, and money.  The four of us had been able to discuss that move, and Mom and Dad had some ability to understand how their lives were changing. They could consciously control their emotional reaction to that move.
Six months ago, at the time we moved them from independent living to assisted living, they had about as much understanding of life as my third grade students. They didn’t have full cognizance of time, dates, or money, but they could speak and still had limited control their emotional reactions.
But now, six short months later, the disease had reverted them to the mentality of about a first grader. Annette and I were making this decision and completing this move for them, just as a parent would make choices for the welfare a six or seven year old child. These eighty-eight year old first graders would not be able to control their emotional reaction to this move. We just hoped and prayed they’d be able to retain some of the happiness which had sustained them all of their lives even as they approached life in a locked Alzheimer’s unit.

As Annette and I arrived at Lakeview Reserve around 9:00 a.m. on the morning of December 22nd, we got out of my car and gulped some deep winter breaths. Our hearts drummed as the elevator took us to their apartment on the second floor. We tapped on the door. Mom answered and welcomed us in. It seemed odd that Mom and Dad were not surprised to see my sister from Florida. I think they were already losing the awareness of her geographic distance. Maybe in their confused minds, my sister and I blended together and they couldn’t distinguish one of us from the other.  We sat down and faked happy conversation, discussing the weather and the Christmas season, for about 30 minutes.
Then Annette and I made eye contact, stood, and rummaged through Mom and Dad’s closet for their winter coats. We brought the coats to the couch where they were sitting, asked them to stand, and started bundling them––saying only that we were taking them to live somewhere where they’d receive more care. They did not speak, but looked at us with puzzled questions on their face, with the innocence of children––lambs led to slaughter––no mention of non-compliance.
On that bitter cold, sloppy morning, with wind chills hovering around freezing, Mom and Dad huddled in their winter coats, as we loaded them along with their walkers into my Jeep and drove them across town.
The new staff greeted them as we walked into The Lodge. Their new room was warm and cozy, despite the ugly weather outside. We took their coats off and settled Dad into the plaid chair and Mom into the flowered chair, visiting with them for about 20 minutes. Mom commented, “This place reminds me of the farm.” I think the small delicate print on the wallpaper must have conjured up thoughts from her youth.
Aides came to walk them to lunch and gave Annette and me a signal to leave, nodding, indicating, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right.” We excused ourselves, assuring Mom and Dad we’d return with their things soon, knowing we had much work to do back at Lakeview Reserve.
Aides released us through the locked doors and Annette and I held hands, leaning on each other until we escaped through the front doors, then scurried back to my Jeep.

We returned to Lakeview Reserve and began the whirlwind of completely dismantling Mom and Dad’s apartment in two days. Annette and I divided and conquered, she on one end of the apartment, I on the other. We pitched, sorted, and bagged anything salvageable. 

A couple of times each day we’d rush back to The Lodge to check on Mom and Dad, taking small amounts of favorite, comfortable clothes, a few pairs of shoes, and basic necessities to their new room at The Lodge. Now, at the end of our parents’ lives, their existence was reduced to a couple of armloads of clothes and toiletries.            
We’d ask the staff how they were acclimating. Each time we arrived, for two straight days, we found them sitting bundled in their winter coats. We had to keep asking them to take their coats off. Aides told us Mom and Dad continued to put their coats back on saying, “We don’t live here. We’re leaving soon.”