An elderly man with Alzheimers in a wheelchair smiles at a nurse who is crouching down next to him with her hand on his.

The Golden Nuggets

You know Alzheimer’s is a sad disease. Very sad. However, you may not have to look far to find some golden nuggets, those things that make you smile, while your loved one journeys through this disease. I thought I’d share some of those with you that meant the most to me.

My 10 reasons to smile

1. Watching Dad respond to Mom whispering in his ear

When he was confused about the world, Dad would get angry and lash out. Mom would whisper in his ear, “No Andy. Don’t swear (like that at someone). This is not you”. She was right. Dad would never have done that publicly. He would listen to her. He would calm. He would stop.

2. His independence was maintained for longer than I thought

Dad would become agitated when the family was visiting Mom and Dad's home. Sometimes he’d decide he was leaving, he was going home. He was home but it was overwhelming having too many people there. Dad would leave the house and go for a walk around the block, sometimes even a couple blocks. At first, we thought he was wandering. But now, we don't think he was. My two brothers decided to follow him at a safe distance. He would only go a block or two then return home. We were amazed. What made sense: Dad grew up in the house we grew up in. He knew the neighborhood his whole life. His long term memory was still active to some degree. That was joyous to see when we thought all was lost.

3. Dad knew me

Right to the end, Dad knew me. There was a look in his eyes that stood out. He couldn’t remember my name. Then as time and disease progressed, he couldn’t speak. But his eyes told all. He knew me. I could see it.

4. Watching Dad doing Zumba from his wheelchair

I thought this was a crazy idea. Zumba? Yup. Dad did Zumba. Right there from his chair. He had the endurance to do the whole session too. It was heartwarming to see him participate when I was sad and wondered about his capacity for so few things.

5. Watching Dad respond with kindness

Dad would respond with kindness to those who loved and worked with him at his memory care home and those who visited. He would respond to a touch of the hands. He would give a wave. That social interaction was still intact for a very long time. He was still very connected.

6. How music calmed him

I have an appreciation for music because of my dad. There were always records, 8 track tapes, cassettes, or CDs full of music when I was growing or grown. Music was dad’s relief and release when life got very stressful for him. He loved his jazz. So it should have been no surprise that dad would respond to it because he always did.

7. Finding creative ways to stay connected

There are different strategies used that can help people stay connected. One of those is a doll or a stuffy. I had seen these on wheelchair trays and the affection people with Alzheimer’s had for them; the love they gave to the doll. I tried this with Dad. He knocked it off the tray. That must have been by accident. I put it back. He knocked it off again. After the third time, I rejoiced in knowing Dad was still in there. How dare I give a grown man a doll? The message was clear.

8. When are the kids coming home?

Dad knew he had children. Mike, Tim, and Shell. It helped him to hang on when the world got so confusing for him.

9. My dad remembered my husband

He knew my husband by name when he could not remember Mom or any of us. My husband felt bad about this. I did not. I was over the moon that Dad could hang on to someone, a thread. Our friend pointed out that of all of us, Mom and us kids, my husband was the one who didn’t change in appearance. Dad knew him as an adult. Mom changed over the many years, they’d been together 60 plus years. My brothers and I changed, we grew up. My husband, Steve, never changed much in 30 years. No wonder Dad knew him by name, some of his long term memory was still there.

10. My dad's smile

Dad lit up when he’d see my brother's dog. Dad was a dog person. He didn’t mind my cats but he was a dog person. Dad always loved Dixie. My dad connected with the animals and they connected with him, laying by his side when he was stressed. It was heartwarming to see, reduced me to tears quite a few times.

Keeping my dad close in my heart

So you see, even in the really rough times, there are some golden nuggets for us to hang on to. Maybe we don’t recognize them right away but they are there. For me, these nuggets keep my dad in my heart. They make me smile at the times when I really miss him.

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