I am very happily married to Peter Watt and have two sons, Charles aged 22 and Matthew aged 23. I was born in 1958 in a small country hospital and grew up in a farming community near Cleve in South Australia. Diagnosed with a rare younger onset dementia when I was 49, possibly semantic, my life has changed in ways that are hard to understand, and challenging to live with.
There are a lot of moments when I feel profoundly connected to my father, and as the disease progresses, the ways and spaces through which we connect adapt themselves without my noticing. Every time I come through the front door of his home, I feel the shine in his eyes, welcoming me, and his limpid smile immediately lifts my soul. So we sit together on the sofa, shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, and we share kisses, happy and calm. And I think: It doesn’t get better than this.
“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
I feel especially connected to my father in the moments when I get him to smile, and that tends to happen when he comes to greet me, when I arrive at the home. It also sometimes happens when he shares his jokes with me. His sense of humor is pretty incoherent, but it’s still there.
I can perceive how strong my father’s need to communicate is. To a great extent, he’s aware of his cognitive deterioration; he knows he has difficulty expressing himself and that it’s an effort for everyone else to understand him. My tactic is to be especially attentive to everything he says. He sees the effort, and appreciates it, which helps take the conversation that much further. Knowing what he likes and his points of view also helps me immensely. Thanks to that, starting from words that don’t seem to be coherent, I manage to get what he’s saying and maintain a certain level of dialogue.
I especially connect with my father when I watch him fly a radio-controlled mini-helicopter that I gave him.
My father and I shared many years building and flying radio-control airplanes — gliders to be precise. I grew up under the strong influence of his passion for aviation and I remember that when I was a kid, there was nothing better than to go the airport, where my dad worked, to watch him do his job. Getting into the cabins of the planes with him, look at and touch the countless numbers of buttons and levers, communications with the control towers when we’d move these huge planes from one ramp to the other…the things that make up the daily life of an airport. During the work week my dad was the head of maintenance, and during the weekend, he’d distribute his time between the family, construction and flight. This he did with meticulous dedication, year after year. Continue reading
Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. I work in home health as a physical therapist and occasionally have patients with some form of dementia that impacts their independent living. The role of rehabilitation with these patients can be very challenging depending on the stage of the disease process. Summer of 2011, I had a series of patients with the diagnosis of dementia that opened my eyes in a way the mind has difficulty explaining and goes beyond the standards of belief today. I experienced an awareness of connection of all of life to the universe. Moreover, as I work with the body I am beginning to see and experience a great relationship to the eternal soul. Continue reading
“When life hands you Alzheimer’s, embrace it.” I was my mother’s primary caregiver to Alzheimer’s. And if I had heard that statement while I was in the thick of care giving trenches, I would have quickly dismissed the advice as superficial and one-dimensional. But as a recovering caregiver, I realize the power of that statement. Unintentionally and unrehearsed, I did embrace Alzheimer’s during the early stages of this journey, and that very act fundamentally defined my experience, converting an otherwise stressful journey into a mindful and meaningful series of life lessons. Continue reading