Your Father Has Alzheimer’s: A Primer for Baby Boomers on Dealing With Our Aging Parents

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The new Pontiac rounded the curve on Route 17 at speed, as though the twisting road were as straight as an arrow, bringing the mountain view into our line of sight faster than usual. The breathtaking view only served to heighten the excitement that always accompanied our trip to the Catskill Mountains, just north of New York City, each summer.

I marveled at how well the new car rode, and at the consummate skill with which my father piloted his pride and joy through the twisting mountain road. Everything was right with the world: new car, beautiful day, baby brother sleeping quietly, my folks chatting amiably in the front seat, interrupted periodically by my mothers admonitions to “slow down a little, for goodness sake!” and two weeks of heaven in the Catskills now, literally, right around the corner.

During our vacations to the Catskills, we got in the car only on seldom trips into the tiny town nearby. Otherwise, stepping into the car would mean the dreaded day when we would be going back to the city. For five years, I threw up in the car on every one of those trips home. Years later, a ride in the car with my father was to induce nausea again, for much different reasons.

Thirty Years Later…
It only took a second for my brother and me to realize that we were not in a turning lane. Clearly, my father had moved into a lane that would soon include the excitement of oncoming traffic. Alan and I had decided on this visit to give my father a chance to prove that he really was OK to drive. I watched from the back seat, as my brother tried to wrestle the wheel away from my father, who protested that we were crazy. He was quite sure that it was all right to be in this lane, especially as it was shorter to turn left from this lane.

Somehow, with my pleas from the backseat added to the commotion, my father allowed my brother to steer us back onto the right shoulder and braked to a stop. Upon calm reflection, he admitted that he had gotten a little confused, citing the fact that construction had changed the roadway just recently; he was right about that. He was calm, logical, and persuasive, and almost got us to believe him.

This was, in effect, our first family lesson in dealing with Alzheimer’s: the patient doesn’t realize what’s happening for a long time. When he/she does; they do not want to acknowledge or accept it, and they are quite capable, whatever mental failings they may have, of making a vehement case for letting them go about their business. Don’t be fooled. We were very lucky that my father did not kill someone during those final months he had been driving. After that night, which was his road test with us, we made sure that he never drove again.

I can offer no definitive answers about dealing with your parent who has Alzheimer’s, only a series of experiences, impressions, and recommendations like the one above. My book is not a medical treatise on the science of Alzheimer’s; but rather a layman’s book on how I learned about the pain of dealing with an aging and increasingly confused parent, and how I learned about those who can help you, those who will hurt you, and those who could care less.

Excerpted from Your Father Has Alzheimer’s: A Primer for Baby Boomers on Dealing With Our Aging Parents by Miles Friedman. To order a complete copy of the book, go to www.amazon.com, www.publishamerica.com, or www.bn.com. Friedman is currently working with George Mason University on a forum that will explore the impact of family caregiving responsibilities on workers, the workplace and employers. The forum will be held at the GMU Manassas campus in October; interested readers should contact Friedman at [email protected]

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