Tag Archives: vascular dementia

Whiskey? Sure, Why Not?


Once we are out of our parents’ homes we can, for the most part, set aside our feelings about some of our parents’ personal issues. When the time comes for adult children to return to their parents’ sides in order to help them maneuver their way through dementia diagnoses,  they often find themselves facing more than just health care concerns. Many adult children have to face, head on, their judgments about their parents’ lifestyles. Childhood issues can come full force into adult children’s faces. And deal with them we must.

The following post may be a bit controversial. I know my stomach churns a little at the thought of being judged for what I’m about to write, but a friend said something to me that made me realize the point is not how people feel about my family’s choice. The point is to share my story and hopefully help others realize they are not alone. So, here I go.

JHP, JR and me, circa 1979(ish)

For as long as I can remember, my father has been an alcoholic. It’s colored my entire family’s life. It’s stained our childhood memories and caused a great deal of pain. So, in the beginning of all this JHP, JR dementia fun, I had to stare down the fact that I had (and probably still have) serious issues surrounding my father’s alcoholism. I probably  would have benefited from hiring a personal valet for all my baggage I carried about this one issue. And, oh, I would have done anything to have a sober father. Maybe I could have forced him to become one, against his will. My sister and I thought long and hard about making him sober. In the end, we chose to let him have his booze.

This wasn’t an easy decision.

See, after watching dad go through DT’s the last time he was in the hospital, then dealing with his withdrawal-driven tirades about wanting whiskey, we gave up on the idea of ever having a recovering alcoholic for a father, because even in his weakened state Dad could intimidate the hell out of just about anybody. I went through the usual frustrations, blame, resentment and sheer hatred. I even utilized avoidance tactics to put off enabling his drinking. Most often, they helped in the moment, but not for much longer than a moment.

I could have stopped buying his whiskey for him. I could have said, “No Dad! I won’t support your continued abuse of alcohol.” And maybe I did a couple of times. I could have poured out every bottle in his house. Did I consider it? Oh hell yes! Did I resent being in that position? Double hell yes. I think I can speak for my sister when I say she was as frustrated by it all as I was.  Did I follow through and stop buying, providing, crying? No. I kept buying his booze for him and I even taught caregivers how to make his drinks. Does that make me an enabler? Maybe. Does that make him any more of an alcoholic than he was before? Not likely. Does allowing an 89-year-old alcoholic to drink make me a bad person, or a bad daughter? No. I don’t think it does. And it’s taken me a couple of years to finally allow myself to be okay with his continued drinking.

Mind you, his drinking is monitored now. And sometimes he even forgets about booze, but it’s never permanent. In fact, I very well may be a trigger for his desire to drink. I don’t know. There’s a very good chance he associates me with liquor.

Now, coming to this decision has taken a great deal of time, effort, tears, conversations and a few visits with Al Anon. And, maybe, if JHP, JR. hadn’t lost everything else I would feel differently.

Let’s review:

  • The man who did the NY Times crossword puzzle in pen every morning, can no longer think of simple synonyms for everyday words.
  • The man who used to read a couple of books each week can no longer read because he can’t see well enough, and even if he could see he can’t comprehend the words he’s reading.
  • The man who used to play golf at least 5 days a week, can no longer remember how to play golf or walk well enough to do so.
  • The man who once argued and won in front of the Texas Supreme Court more than any attorney in the state can’t come up with words to make an argument.

He has no real friends. He has paid staff at the facility. He has his dog. He can’t drive. He can barely see. He doesn’t remember his own life. People tell him when to get up, when to eat, when to bathe. He can’t focus on a storyline, so he can’t even watch TV. He doesn’t even know how to work a TV any more. He has to rely on others to get him where he needs to go, even if it’s just down the hallway to the dining room. He can barely get himself to the bathroom without falling, and that’s when he’s stone cold sober.

If he wants whiskey or chocolate, I’ll give it to him. Hell, I’ll soak the candy bar in whiskey if that’s what he wants.

Lucy
Jerome’s Daughter/Bartender

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If We Could Make Just One Sound At A Time…


One of the issues my father struggles with is the inability to sort through the various stimuli in his environment, especially auditory. I believe this is a form of sensory processing disorder that accompanies vascular dementia. For example, if I am talking to him while my daughters are having a separate conversation in the same room, and his dog is “requesting” a treat, dad will either struggle to figure out what words were intended for him or he’ll close his eyes, grimace, and shut himself off. Since I only play a dementia specialist on the Internet, this is a somewhat-educated guess via online research that tells me he very well may have auditory integration issues.

While I don’t understand all the physiological reasons for this inability, it makes sense to me that strokes and alcoholism have impaired portions of his brain that would otherwise be able to differentiate, tune out selectively, or just hear it all and know it. As I watch my father’s responses, or lack of response, it’s becoming more apparent that busy environments are extremely challenging and frustrating for him, if not painful.

Part of me wonders if this issue hasn’t always been there in a milder form, and if it’s been exacerbated by the damage to his brain. I say this because I remember some of his behaviors during my younger years that may have been indications he had issues with auditory stimuli. I’ve also found that, with age, I struggle with feeling over-stimulated by lights and sounds, especially a combination of them at higher intensity. Frankly, I have trouble writing with any noise other than bird songs in my immediate environment. Just ask my kids.

I’ve often watched Dad cover his head, eyes, and ears with his arms and hands as if he’s in pain. I’m beginning to realize he may be trying to shut out some of the stimuli. Ever since mom died, he’s had a tendency to be reclusive, but now these changes in his brain seem to have made it physically painful for him to be in the presence of more than just a few people, especially if those people aren’t aware of his issues. At most, he seems to be able to manage having my two daughters, the dog, and me in his presence at the same time. In any other situation that would be too much for him, but I think the fact he enjoys hearing kid-noise makes it less painful for him. In fact, I think he enjoys listening to their chatter more than he does talking to me.

Wednesday, I visited Dad during lunch time. A very talkative man was sitting at the same table.  Initially, I tried to focus on dad, but this white-haired little guy kept talking to me. He’s just a talker. He’s a sweet man, too, and I do love seeing him.  So I spent most of the meal chatting with this gentleman and trying to bring my father in on the conversation.

As usual, Dad barely said a word. Every time I spoke to my father, the other gentleman spoke. Dad turned toward me, looked at me, closed his eyes then turned away without giving a verbal response. This may have been because Dad’s attention was immediately drawn towards the other man’s words and my father was then unable to get back to his thought . It may have been his frustration with being interrupted. I honestly can only guess because he didn’t speak.

JHP, JR and my daughters

On the other hand, it’s a completely different experience when Dad spends mealtime in his room with one voice speaking at a time or music playing. Wednesday evening, my daughters and I packed up our usual treats for dad and treats for his dog, along with my eldest daughter’s violin and my other daughter’s recorder. Dad was asleep. When I woke him up to announce our arrival, he was thrilled the girls were with me. I decided we would all sit together in his room while he ate, so he could interact with his granddaughters without being interrupted by other residents who love seeing my girls.

These really are some of our best visits with him, even though there is very little conversation. My oldest daughter played her new violin. My youngest daughter filled a plastic glove with water and drew a face on it. I worked on putting out chocolates for dad, putting away the remaining candy stash, and getting the dog treats put away.

Playing violin for Grandpa

Hardly a word was spoken the entire time, but Dad tapped his foot. He bobbed his head. It took me a while to realize what he was doing because I was concerned he was falling asleep and his dog would catch the sandwich as it hit the floor. As I watched to make sure Dad didn’t drop anything, I noticed he was intentionally bobbing his head to the music. When my daughter fumbled through a new piece of music, he popped his head a little more obviously. That’s all. He bobbed his head, he tapped his foot, and he listened to her play violin. He was being her metronome.

Later, as usual, silliness took over. My youngest did her circus act on his walker, jumping up and down doing her version of a “walker dance.” Then my older daughter jumped in and did some of her new Hip Hop moves. Dad smiled and clapped his hands, and he made it very clear that he likes it when the girls are silly and talkative. It’s like they are on stage. He gets to watch and even if he doesn’t understand exactly what they are saying, he can tell they are having fun and that they are doing it for him.

It’s such a different experience from spending time with him in the common areas of the facility.

This makes for a challenging situation, though. While I want him to be around people, I don’t want him to be miserable or uncomfortable. I want him to interact with people, but I prefer he interact with people who are sensitive to this part of his struggle. I’d love for the facility where he lives to have an employee designated specifically for people like my father who can’t handle being in the common areas, just to fill the gaps since families can’t be there all the time.  I’d like for all elder care facilities to have that service available to those more reclusive residents. But for now, the focus of our visits with Dad is to give him that type of interaction that seems to work best for him.

I think my daughter put it best. “Grandpa isn’t deaf. He hears everything all at once. So we have to make noises one-at-a-time.”