Monday, December 31, 2007

Alzheimer's and Cruise Ships

Many of you who know me, or who have read some of my older posts, know that my Father-In-Law has Alzheimer's Disease.

Denny was diagnosed 3 or 4 years ago, and it's been difficult. He wanders away with things, leaves them in special hiding places, and will sometimes repeatedly make a circular path through the house trying to remember just what it is that he needs to be doing.

My Mother-In-Law has paid our way on vacation cruises once a year, ever since Denny was diagnosed. They want their family to have group holidays as many times as possible before his situation deteriorates any further.

We think each trip will be the last, but every year around September the disease goes into a brief remission - a remission long enough to justify booking tickets on the cruise, anyway. At this point, Denny has had more farewell tours than The Eagles.

Cruise ships work out well for Alzheimer's patients. There's always something going on, and you can't get off the boat and get lost. We got on the ship in San Diego, and went to Cabo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. This has been the first trip where Denny really couldn't remember much about what happened the day before.

Denny used to get up and get on with his routine with military precision. On the cruise, he usually took an afternoon nap. When he woke up, he wouldn't know if it was time for dinner or time for breakfast.

This is a man who volunteered for two tours of duty in Viet Nam. His gun is now at my house, for safety's sake.

This is a man who, upon returning home from the war, got a Doctorate in Social Ministries from TCU. I once saw him in a video documentary about helping the homeless. He explained his favorite Bible passage, from the Gospel of John...."When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." So Denny has spent most of his non-military career providing food and clothing for the homeless. But now his wife has to look at menus and order for him.

This is a man who once knew the names and idiosyncracies of more than 500 street people. Today, he can't remember what a "shrimp cocktail" is.

He once acted as advisor to an entire South Vietnamese village. About a year ago, he had to resign from Meals On Wheels because he couldn't find Main Street.

The church has always been important to him. Denny made some promises to God during the Tet Offensive, and he's kept those promises. But he can no longer teach his Sunday School class because he taught the same lesson two weeks in a row.

If there's an upside, it's getting to hear stories about trips he never took. For instance, whenever I bring up trips to China he now "remembers" going to The Great Wall of China as an R&R trip during the Vietnam war. (The Communist Chinese were on the opposite sides of the trenches from us during Vietnam. I don't think this trip happened....) But the story is great. He can see it happening.

The same thing goes for the family's vacation in Panama. Didn't happen. But he's got lots of stories about it.

Denny's not going to live in our world any more. I sometimes enjoy going to live in his.


subadei said...

You're a gem for allowing yourself to flow into Denny's new world as opposed to resisting it. Happy new year to you and Denny and all of yours.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Dear Subdude,

Thanks, and ditto back to you. You're in Vermont, right?

subadei said...

Yes, I'm posting from VT.

Carol D. O'Dell said...

It's nice to read your blog. Alzheimer's is such a strange disease, and not fighting it is best--and the cruise idea is a good one, especially in the earlier stages when your loved one might be only mildly confused--as opposed to later when our loved ones might become violent or beligerent.
Happy 2008!
~Carol D. O'Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir,
available on Amazon and in most bookstores.