My dad and dementia

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Dawna Friesen

The family of Winnipegger Frank Alexander never imagined his story would end the way it has.

He was married for 69 years, a navy veteran, and at age 87, he was still physically strong, according to his son.

But Frank’s mind was not. He had Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s why he was in a care home, where he died after getting into an altercation with another man with the same disease.

It’s a tragedy for both families involved and it certainly touched a nerve with me, because my dad was beaten up in a care home too.

How he ended up in that home is a sad story in itself.

Dad used to say the only way we’d get him off the farm was if we carried him off.

He is a farmer through and through, and the longest trip he ever made was as a four-year-old boy, fleeing Russia with his parents and siblings to start a new life in Canada.

That was enough travel to last him a lifetime.

He loves the farm and hates the city. He loves solitude and hates crowds.

But his story isn’t going to end the way he wanted either because he, too, has dementia.

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And that’s why we had no choice but to put him in a Winnipeg care home, where he shares a room with another man and spends his days sitting in a wheelchair, confined to a locked ward.

My dad’s last walk on the farm was more than two years ago, on what was the coldest day of the year. He was already quite confused and forgetful, but we thought he was still safe living at home with our mother.

We were wrong.

It was -50°C with the wind chill that day, and the yard was filled with deep snow. Mom didn’t hear him go out. Thankfully he’d put on a bright orange jacket. It probably saved his life.

At some point, he lost his footing and fell. How long he was down, we don’t know. All we know is that by the time someone drove by and spotted his orange jacket, he had hypothermia, frostbite in his fingers, toes and knees, and he’d had a heart attack.

He was 88 then and we were sure we’d lose him. But he rallied in the hospital and made a remarkable recovery. Or rather, his body did. His mind had deteriorated to the point that we knew he’d never go back to the farm. He sometimes recognizes his family now, but not often. Mostly he lives in the past, drifting in and out of childhood memories.

He also can’t see much anymore because of his macular degeneration.

That, combined with his dementia, is why he ended up wandering into someone else’s room one night and getting his lights punched out. He lost a couple of teeth, his face was badly bruised, and he was pretty upset. But he’s still alive, unlike Frank Alexander.

Frank’s son Michael said, “It’s not the kind of place I wanted my dad to be in.”

Me neither.

That’s no slur on the staff. At my father’s care home, they are so patient, kind and caring, that at times I am in awe of them. I know I could never do what they do, and I don’t blame anyone for my dad being beat up. The reality is, dealing with dementia means confronting the unpredictable on a daily basis.

But it’s not the way any of us dreams our parents will end their days.

Dawna is Global National’s anchor and executive editor, based in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @DFriesenGlobal.

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