Category Archives: alzheimers

Tales of dealing iwth my dad’s adventure with Altzheimers & dementia

“Bloom County” is back!

I happened to be in the car with NPR on the radio for an item from “Fresh Air” on the return of “Bloom County” after 25 years (“‘Bloom County’ And Opus The Penguin Return After A 25-Year Hiatus“). This time around, it appears on Facebook, bypassing the newspaper world altogether.

The broadcast piece includes a fabulous interview with “Bloom County” creator, Berkeley Breathed.

He tells of being attacked by the professional “editorial cartoonists,” who tried to get his 1987 Pulitzer prize revoked. After all, “Bloom County” appeared on the comic pages, not the editorial pages.

He also tells of the trials of being syndicated, which he describes as having 1,200 editors, one at each of the newspapers that carried the comic strip.

BREATHED: It’s relevant because I’m doing the same comic strip now without any editing whatsoever. And I would say that in 1985, I had 1,200 editors, each of them having a different agenda, each of them having a different audience, every single one of them feeling that they had the right to edit and to – I wouldn’t say censor – but manipulate the material. You know, the editor of The Salt Lake City Tribune had a different agenda than the editor of the Boston Herald. And they would be perfectly happy and editing and rewriting each strip as they felt necessary, which left some very funny strips out there. There needs to be a book of the various versions of my comic – of each comic – the more controversial ones as it appeared in papers around the country.

And, finally, he comments on the new relationship with readers in the new digital world.

The digital world has allowed me a connection with my reader that I’d never had before. I wrote every single cartoon strip in isolation in a dining room in an Iowa City farmhouse. I didn’t meet the people who read my material. The fan letters were mostly answered by professional people that’d done them for a living. And I didn’t have any daily connection with their response to my work. So the cartooning was just an abstraction. It was an income. It was making me famous. It was allowing me to go and do other things that I’d wanted to do. But I didn’t have a relationship with my audience. And every artist should have it.

You can listen to the “Fresh Air” piece or read the transcript, and of course go to Facebook for the renewed strip.

Dealing with an overnight visit from my father

My father made a rare appearance sometime early this morning.

We were sitting in the living room of my parents’ house in Kahala, my father in the chair that had been his regular spot. I had no sense of how we got there or what else was going on, but it somehow seemed relatively normal. Although he died more than two years ago, at this moment he looked pretty good.

He was wearing a pair of clean but well-worn shorts and a t-shirt, reading glasses in place. I didn’t notice if he was wearing shoes or slippers.

He had some papers in his hand, a once strong hand which had become increasingly unsteady over the past decade, so the papers shook as he gestured towards me with them.

“I saw this in the newspaper,” he said, angling the papers so that I could see a small item he had carefully clipped.

“The airport has some new insurance requirements for venders,” he said, nodding towards the clipping. “Maybe you know somebody to handle that for me?”

I was mentally sorting through the insurance people I’ve dealt with when I caught myself. Too much wrong here. He obviously had some idea about going back into business. Before he retired from his restaurant equipment and supply business at age 85, he had talked about holding on to a couple of the best product lines that he could continue to represent. He was always a good salesman, and might have made it work. Instead, he just went fishing. Perhaps this was the reemergence of that prior plan.

I turned and moved a chair over to face him. I remember it was a low, wood and canvas captain’s chair. I don’t recall there being one like this in the house before, but there it was. I sat down, looked into my father’s face.

“This isn’t a good idea,” I said, trying to figure out how to say what needed to be said. “For one thing, you’ve got Alzheimer’s, and you couldn’t keep track of things well enough to be in business again.”

As I spoke, I remember trying to find a way to avoid saying the most obvious thing: “And you’re dead, so it’s just not going to work.”

I found a gentler tack, harkening back to those times in the nursing home when we would make up excuses whenever he would get agitated and obsessed with where he parked the car or what he had done with his wallet.

“Meda took the car home to keep it safe, so you don’t have to worry,” we would say. Or I would tell him that I was paying all the bills, so he could just relax and enjoy the hotel service (in his mind, the nursing home was a hotel, or sometimes he thought it was the old Commercial Club in downtown Honolulu).

I tried something similar. “The problem is that we’ve already closed down your bank accounts, so it would be pretty hard to set up new ones and go back to work.”

And you’re dead, I said in my mind, but in my dream I held my tongue, trying hard not to offend.

But my dream couldn’t contain the complexity of the scene and it abruptly ended. He was gone and I was partly awake, still in bed, several cats casting low shadows as they prowled the room in hopes breakfast might be coming soon.

I later realized this dream was likely triggered by the closing of my dad’s remaining bank account, the one which holds the savings which managed to outlast his two years in a nursing home. After his death, it had been set aside in trust for my mother’s care, if needed. With her passing, I’m in the process of closing the account and moving on. I thought this was pretty routine, purely a straightforward process, but obviously there’s more emotion hidden behind the scenes than I expected to be dealing with.

Fair warning.

Wondering about my father’s automobile anxieties

It’s good to know that my dad’s persistent anxiety focusing on his car isn’t unique. Apparently it’s quite common for people suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. He often goes through the same refrain.

Where are my keys? I have to go downstairs because I can’t remember where I parked the car. I’m going to get a ticket if I don’t move the car. Do you know where it is? I know I drove it this morning. Where was that? Do you think someone stole it? The’ve been taking my keys.

I got an email a couple of days ago from a woman going through a similar struggle with her father.

My father has been diagnosed with Alzheimers in October. He too was driving up until January and we sold his car last month. He would drive to Ala Moana Center and forget where he parked his car after he walked around the mall. This happened about half a dozen times that I know of. Since last month he has been constantly asking where his car and keys are. When we tell him it was sold he would repeat the same question a few seconds later and just can’t remember. For the past few weeks, he has been writing a list of “stolen items”, i.e., wallet, house phone, car, house key and car keys, etc. Of course they weren’t stolen, my mother has the keys and wallet. Last week he lost his wallet which had his drivers license in it. We still can’t find it and hopefully it’s in the house somewhere.

This week, while waiting to begin a quarterly meeting with the nursing home staff to update us on his condition, I asked whether women also had automobile anxieties.

Kate, the activities director, said women have a different set of anxieties, often relating to taking care of children and the household.

Where was I supposed to pick up the kids? I need to get to the store to shop for dinner. Etc.

So these tell us a whole lot about our culture and our relation to different cultural elements. I’m amazed at how fundamental the car is to my father. I’m guessing I would have a very different worry list. Are all the cats accounted for? I can’t find (fill in a cat’s name). Have you seen my computer? Somebody stole my camera!

Now I’m wondering how dementia’s anxieties express themselves for people who live in less automobile-dependent cultures? Do they obsess about train schedules? Loss of a bicycle? A bit of a cross-cultural and gendered perspective would probably be most interesting and informative.