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Friday, May 16, 2014

Dad's Project

 I've been doing a lot of reading about dementia and Alzheimer's recently. I'm glad I have. It has given me a much better insight into the disease and how it effects thinking. This has given me a peace of mind that I hadn't had before. Knowing that my dad's strange behaviors, lack of manners, and never saying a simple "thank you," is part of the disease process and not really directed at me, has changed my attitude. It has lifted a cloud that had been hanging over me. I no longer feel like I just can't do anything right.

I also have realized how lucky I really am. While Dad isn't polite to me, he isn't angry or aggressive. He isn't yelling at me, throwing things at me or trying to hit me. While he might hide his checkbook now and then, it isn't because he doesn't trust me, it's because he has a lack of trust in the world in general. If I ask him where his checkbook is, he tells me, if he can remember. 

Dad still has a sense of humor. He still laughs, he still makes jokes. I've read that many people tormented by this disease are much different. Very paranoid, very frightened, very angry. Dad isn't any of these things, yet. People suffering from dementia, have no control over these very negative, very heartbreaking reactions they have. The parts of their brains that control those emotions are no longer functioning properly, their brains are losing more than just memory. 

Some of the things I have read, have suggested letting the person with dementia try art. I like painting, and creating things. I've been working on a lot of projects for Valerie's wedding shower. Dad watches me as I work. He asks me questions, and seems interested.

Today I decided to see if he would like to help with one. I know this can be very tricky. Learning new skills is impossible. He still has trouble with the volume button on the TV remote, and he's lived here for a year. Trying to teach him to make an origami rose, just not in the cards.

I had bought two shelves at The Habitat For Humanity Restore. I knew I wanted to use them for the shower. Not as shelves, but as signs or something. They were only three bucks each, even if I couldn't figure out something to do with them now, I would later. They were painted a reddish brick color. I planned on using them pretty much as is, but they needed cleaned up.

I looked at them this morning. I looked out at Dad sitting in his chair. I didn't know how this was going to turn out. Would he say no? Would he get mad that I asked? If he said he would help, would it overwhelm him? I wouldn't know if I didn't try. I decided to ask him in a way that "no" just wouldn't be an answer.

"Dad, I need your help with something," I decided to say. I brought the first shelf out. "I need you to clean this shelf off for me. I want to use it for Valerie's shower, but it needs cleaned up first." I wasn't sure what to expect out of him, and was very pleasantly surprised when he said ok.

I put a towel over his lap, brought him a damp towel and he went to work. There was a price sticker on it and he asked if he should take it off. I told him to please take it off. It was pretty sticky and he worked hard at getting it off. I went out to the kitchen and got him a scrubber pad. He scrubbed at it until he got it all off.

He looked very proud of the job he did. I brought him out the other one. Just as dutifully he clean the second one off. When he was done, I asked if he'd like to paint them. I hadn't really planned on painting them, but he was enjoying working on them so much, I thought I'd try.

"Do you want to paint them for me?" I asked. This time leaving him a chance to say no if it would be too overwhelming.

"Well, sure," he answered.

I got him the paint, and paint brushes. I realized quickly that I had given him too many paint brushes to pick from, his face was a bit panicked when he looked at them all. I removed all but three and he calmed down. I poured four colors of paint in a pie pan, the one I always use when I paint. I put the paint where he could reach it.

"The number one thing you need to know is, you can't do this wrong. You can just do whatever you want. If you want to paint a tree, that's fine. If you just want to swirl the colors around, that's fine too. Whatever you want to do." Then I let him have at it.

I've read that some dementia patients turn out to be great artists, that no one ever knew they had such talent. My Dad.... not one of those people. He enjoyed it though. And actually, the way he swirled the colors together, it looks just fine and will still look perfect for what I want to use it for.

Best of all, Valerie will have something at her shower that her grandpa made. I may have to find other things he can help with. Even if it is folding hand towels, or something like that. I think he liked feeling useful.

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