Dealing With Dementia: Making the Most of an Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Tonight, I was settling into my oversized chair with my legs curled under me. I grabbed the remote ready to flip through Netflix to find something to watch when a memory hit me. It was a memory that happened just about in this very spot.

It was somewhere around 7 years ago now. I had moved back home with Daddy a few years prior, partly out of my necessity for a place to go and partly for his sake. I walked in from shopping or picking up medicine or some sort of “galavanting”, as Daddy would have called it. He began speaking immediately, and his words really just made me laugh at the time, but now, just now, I took a bit more meaning from what he said that day just off the cuff.

At peace with his Alzheimer's diagnosis

He told me, clicker in hand, “Well, I couldn’t find the rodeo...but I found Dog (the Bounty Hunter), and I guess one’s just about as good as the other.” Daddy was still in a pretty good place at that time. His history of strokes had taken a little of his independence, but his mind was pretty clear aside from having a hard time with calculations and things. His vision had suffered some. He had a very frustrating relationship with technology that had magnified over the years, but he was good. He was pretty content.

Like I said, that simple little line was something that made me laugh at the time, but I shrugged it off. It still seems like an insignificant line as I deliver it, but I just derived a meaning from it that never hit me at the time when I was likely burdened with grocery bags and things to do. I did ask him if he wanted me to find the rodeo for him. He smiled and gave me a “nah,” happy with his unintended choice. He was going to stick with it.

Making the best of what you have

As I replayed this tiny moment in my head, lyrics hit me that we’ve likely all heard a million times over between oldies stations, movie clips, and commercials. My brain made the association before I could actively produce another thought.

Mick Jagger (or my big brother’s bad impersonation of Mick Jagger) belted through my head, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you might find... you get what you need.”

No, I’m in no way saying that anyone needs or deserves Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or strokes or anything of the sort. What I am saying is that Daddy really seemed, at most times at least, to be pretty content to play the hand he was dealt. We don’t always get to choose. We often don’t get what we want, but we can always try to make what we have work.

Making it all work, even with Alzheimer's

Daddy was a mechanic and handyman who sometimes got the chance to be extra handy. He had tons of materials piled up around here waiting for use. We always had pieces of PVC pipe, old wood, bent nails, and motor components lying in wait. He had a myriad of tools scattered around in tool boxes, old metal first aid kits, and five-gallon buckets that usually still smelled of the oils or chemicals they once held.

That being said, when he got ready to fix something he likely didn’t have the exact part he needed or he may not have been able to lay his hands on it if he did. He always made it work anyway. Whatever was available to him was put to use. He might have had to piece things together or bend them or jam them into something sideways, but he always seemed to find a way.

He never was the kind of guy who needed to have the newest and best. He didn’t expect every little thing to run smoothly. He didn’t need all of the parts of something to match perfectly in paint color or be completely consistent. I think he’d agree with me in saying that the scars and bumps and mismatched parts made things a whole lot more interesting.

New things with perfect pieces molded precisely together were nice, but they lacked the history and ingenuity that his Frankenstein-like projects had. Much like his television tastes, he could have wanted one thing, but another would do just fine. His dementia wasn’t something any of us would have ordered from a catalog or placed in our cart, but we found ways around it when he was diagnosed years after that conversation.

In the end, we made it work. We just had to be a little more creative while adapting to the machinery malfunctions. We learned to watch a different channel, just happy that the worn old tube still flickered on.

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