Rocky Roads Aren’t All Bad

I got home from my Japanese class today to discover Jeff wearing a buttondown shirt (buttons askew, naturally) instead of the new sage green sweatshirt I’d helped him pull over his head after his shower.

Daughter Becca, who had the day off from work, filled in the rest of the story. She’d wandered into the kitchen to discover her dad stationed in front of the kitchen sink. He was chuckling like a five year old, his mouth, nose, cheeks and sweatshirt smeared liberally with Rocky Road ice cream. There was Rocky Road on the counter, on the floor, and the carton itself was upended in the sink as Jeff took bites out of a wad of ice cream he was holding in his right hand (which was otherwise empty of any sort of dish.)

Jeff surrendered his sweatshirt, and Becca (with a bit of unneeded assistance from a dog and cat,) cleaned up the ice cream mess. (Or at least most of it. I think it turned out to be a little like the time my son Gabe, then 10, shook a can of root beer before popping the top. I was still finding root beer on the ceiling months later.) I wiped some errant melted chocolate drips off the dishwasher handle and countertop, then gave the sink–which was still thoroughly splashed–a Bon Ami scrubdown.

If you’ve learned even the basics of Alzheimer’s it will not be news to you that people with the illness age, at least in the mental sphere, backwards. There was no appreciable difference between the mischief Becca discovered her dad in, and the many scenes starring herself or her siblings I’d stumbled upon fifteen or twenty years earlier.

Nor do opportunistically displayed arrays of candy at check-out counters trap only children and their parents in the eternal struggle of “I want M&Ms” versus “But we’re about to have lunch.” It seems to be almost universal that adults with Alzheimer’s rediscover the call of their sweet tooth, and the joy of a happily positioned opportunity to sate it at almost any retail enterprise you can name.

The big difference is that when someone is 63 and suffering a degenerative disease, you no longer feel compelled to attend assiduously to whether he has his lunch before his dessert, and you’re certainly not looking for teachable moments. If Jeff wants M&Ms, he gets M&Ms. If he wants spice drops every time we walk into his former (now his brother’s) hardware store, he gets spice drops.

While palliative care, in the final sense, is somewhere in our future, we’re now living–to the extent that we can–the palliative life. When a person gets the AD diagnosis, there is one thing I believe to be inexorably true: Except for possibly at the very beginning of the road, when there’s still some insight and choice to work with, the time for wrestling with life’s hassles is through. Inasmuch as you the caregiver are able, your goal is to allow that loved one as much contentment as you can facilitate.

Because, truthfully, an AD life is not without its pleasures. Whatever the mind tricks and emotional armor with which I’ve had to fortify myself to heft the weight of spousal caregiving, it is often at least a bit of compensation to notice that…from Jeff’s perspective…maybe things aren’t so bad.

There’s scarcely a morning when I hand him his cup of freshly brewed coffee that he doesn’t respond with something akin to: “Wow…coffee!” I am certain that we’d all be better off if we greeted such simple pleasures–coffee, or a bag of spice drops–as fresh delights.