Dealing With Dementia – Learning to Accept and Appreciate What Is

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”

– Helen Keller, The Open Door

In the spirit of a delightful book I read recently, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson, I took my 82-year-old Dad on a bit of an adventure of our own during a recent visit to his old folks home.

Physically, my Dad could easily climb out the window of his lodge and disappear. Cognitively, this would be a disaster because he would immediately forget where he was going and how to get back home.

However, just as Allan Karlsson, the centenarian protagonist of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, realized: sometimes you do just have to escape the monotony of daily life… even if for just a little while.

Here’s how the mini road trip with my Dad came about:

After lunch at the lodge, I asked him what he’d like to do next.

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Would you like to go for a walk?” I asked.

“Nah… “

“How about a nap?”

“No, thanks.”

“Do you want me to wheel you around in your wheelchair? It’s a nice day outside… “

He shook his head. “Not really.”

Then I suggested we hop in my rental car and go visit my younger brother and his family.

My Dad’s face lit up. “Yes! That would be very nice.”

So off we went on the 7-minute drive to my brother’s place – after I asked my Dad if had to go to the bathroom while there were, you know, trained professionals around to help… to which he politely declined.

After a short walk down the driveway of my brother’s place, and a rousing rendition (by my Dad) of my favourite childhood song, It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Dad made the dreaded announcement:

“I have to go the bathroom.”

Half an hour and an entire roll of toilet paper later we moved on to the visiting portion of the program. And although my Dad was his usual anxious self (stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down), I think he really enjoyed himself. We all did.

A couple of hours later, I returned my Dad, safe and sound, back to his lodge in time for dinner. It wasn’t a particularly exciting adventure, in the big scheme of things, but at least it was a bit of a change of scenery for my Dad – in a controlled and familiar setting – plus we had some laughs.

I won’t deny the fact that it is difficult to see him functioning at a fraction of his formal mental capacity, for he was a brilliant and highly knowledgeable man. But I am thankful that I still have him to hug and hold hands with… and tease. For while accepting what is seems to be key, finding the humour in any given situation certainly helps – and my family is, thankfully, extraordinarily good at this.

The funny thing is that I know my Dad would have loved The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – not just because of the hilarious shenanigans that Allan and his new-found friends (including an elephant named Sonya) get up to, but also because of the ingenious historical references the author uses to creatively share Allan’s backstory.

Sadly, my Dad – who was an avid reader – can’t read anymore because his short-term memory is so poor that he can’t follow the story. But I am very grateful that he shared with me his love of reading, for it has thoroughly enriched my life. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly share his love of history… but perhaps there’s still time to improve on that!

In the meantime, I shall continue to savour the precious time I have left with my Dad – and be thankful for the professional caregivers who work tirelessly to keep him and all the other seniors safe and sound 24-7.