A yellow hat next to a wooden spinning top, nickel, and dinosaur toy.

Grateful for Dad's Yellow Cap

As a caregiver to my father during his years of living with Alzheimer's disease, he was still always up for an outing, and riding in the car meant an adventure. Before settling Dad into the car, I adjusted the car seat to his liking and had his favorite tunes ready on Spotify.

I enjoyed taking Dad on outings to break up his day. Our trips took us to the local department store, the public park, and the kids' section of the library, where he was fascinated with books on world facts and where we could engage in the optional arts and crafts they made available for visitors.

Our outing essentials

When preparing for our outings, the changing seasons, and his disease progression, we ensured he had the necessary items like his coat, handkerchief, and a few small tactile items tucked into his jacket pockets. His favorites were a small plastic dinosaur, a wooden spinning top, and a nickel for playing heads or tails.

A dinosaur toy, a wooden spinning top, and a nickel.

We would most of the time explore these items while waiting at a restaurant for our order. Each time before heading out the door, the most important thing was for Dad to wear his yellow cap, and when he did, he stood out in more ways than one.

Venturing out with Dad was always a good time. Please don't get me wrong - there were plenty of times when he became restless or "wanted to go home." Over time, I learned how to help him transition his emotions of frustration to feelings of calm. I discovered with a soothing voice, switching our conversation to something new or silly, and suggesting things like a walk or treating ourselves to ice cream helped to soothe him and his current mood.

Striving for independence, but concerned about wandering

Each of our outings, which I observed Dad enjoy through smiles, claps of his hands, and the tender touch of his hand on mine, did cause me to worry some. I knew that sooner or later, Dad would need to use the bathroom, insist on purchasing something (he loved little stuffed animals), and the possibility of him wandering off, with me noticing a few seconds too late, could occur.

Carefully and happily making our way down the store's aisles, Dad gravitated towards familiar items, allowing us to reminisce. We would play catch with bouncy balls and explore simple tools in the hardware section. I loved how his strong hands could still grasp a hammer.

During the times when he strived for independence, it was his bright yellow cap that supported me. I wanted him to take steps independently, and many times, he would walk ahead of me and turn the corner, with me following only a few steps behind. It was sad to observe the look of where and what and wonder in his eyes when he couldn't locate me as quickly.

The man in the yellow cap

A yellow hat.

As we continued our outings, I learned the layouts of the stores we frequented, so I knew where to locate a bathroom or a bench should we need one. Using the bathroom before we headed anywhere was most important, and took the stress off the first part of our ride.

When no single or family bathroom was available, and Dad could still navigate toileting relatively independently, I could ask others exiting about the man in the yellow cap. Most could tell me if he was doing okay or needed my assistance.

Adding a layer of visual security

As Dad's Alzheimer's progressed, we transitioned him to more suitable and comfortable clothing, including pull-ups, sweatpants, and slip-on shoes, and he never missed wearing his yellow cap. When shopping for new clothes, we helped Dad choose clothing options that were bright in color, offering us another layer of visual security.

The transition from his button-up jeans, hiking boots, leather belt, and attached phone carrier was hard for him, but eventually, he became accustomed to his new look. For a while, his new wardrobe offered him additional support when changing his clothes at bath time.

With proper planning, patience, and precaution, our opportunities for a trip to the store, a walk in the park, and a meal at a restaurant were often enjoyable. We had bumps, spills, and occasional bouts of frustration, but the good times outweighed the bad. What made us both feel extra special was the kindness of strangers. They could sense when Dad was having challenges forming words and expressing his thoughts. Their willingness to support him was immeasurable.

Reflecting on Dad's glowing collection

Nancy and her father, Lyle, wearing his yellow cap.​​​​​​When Dad passed, I kept his yellow cap and the others in his growing and glowing collection. His yellow cap is kept secure on our family coat hook, and when I catch a glimpse of it, I sense his comfort. Dad, wearing his yellow cap, offered our outings an extra layer of security, a sense of calm, and a pop of color!

Our daily adventures graced him with dignity and opportunities to engage and laugh. Nowadays, when I see someone wearing a bright yellow cap, I am immediately taken back to our time well spent, and I can't help but smile.

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