The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

Got a tip? Have something you need to tell us? Contact us

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Aging father has Alzheimer’s

My father, an 84 -year-old World War II veteran, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than two years ago. My family was in denial for half of that time, but the deterioration of his memory became so pronounced in the past year that the situation was finally unavoidable for everyone. What started out with minor short-term memory loss slowly progressed into a more pronounced loss of the ability to function.

At first, no one wanted to admit that the dynamic, charismatic Italian patriarch was sinking into a state of confusion. My younger brothers had an especially tough time adjusting; there was a lot of initial anger and sadness as his ability to comprehend the present turned into a state of irascible insistence on delusional scenarios of half-reality. Eventually, however, the family accepted the reality. We are, I think, finally settling in with the situation.

In many ways, my dad is a different person than he was 10 years ago, and we are all learning to accept this fact of life. Once full of bravado and Italian machismo, he is now stooped and doesn’t talk nearly as much as he used to. It is clear that he is losing his grasp of the past and often confuses it with the present.

We all have had to get used to answering the same questions over and over again, every day, and are now more or less accustomed to his idiosyncrasies. We know that he has to be monitored, much like a young child, or he is liable to burn the house down, literally.

He is known to do things like put rice cakes in the toaster (don’t ever do this) or try to walk to the supermarket to satisfy the world’s most demanding sweet tooth. However, he does not really have a clear idea where the market is, and thus could end up wandering the neighborhood lost if we are not careful.

Every other month or so, he has a new entity to demonize. Sometimes he is convinced that an employee at the bank stole his ring out of the safe, even though he doesn’t have a safe box. He has long-running, entrenched warfare underway with the local cleaners, who he believes stole his clothes and sold them for profit.

He is always dialing information in search of old friends, but he ends up asking the poor operator for generic names such as “Bob Smith” in New York. When he gets the wrong Bob Smith, he invariably calls the operator back and demands a refund. Ever the devout Catholic, he calls local churches at all hours of the day, asking if they have services.

For the most part, people are understanding and cordial toward him. There are certain members of the community that must repeat the same information to him on a daily basis, but as far as I know, they are polite to him.

One neighbor even drives him around when no one in the family is available to do it, though this can sometimes wreak its own kind of havoc. There have been a fair number of unnecessary neighborhood searches for an AWOL Dad, only to learn that he was being driven around by the well-meaning neighbor.

Despite the fear of sounding callous, I have to say it is draining trying to deal with him, and it is a round-the-clock endeavor. It may not seem like a big challenge to repeat “it’s Monday” a dozen times, but over time it becomes like water torture.

He is loved, however, and his new, Alzheimer’s-induced quirks are endearing in their own ways. We have found that humor is sometimes the best way to approach a situation that is in reality most unfunny.

Recently, a friend from the local parish gave him a box full of nice, freshly dry-cleaned clothes, which he was otherwise going to throw away. My dad gleefully and triumphantly stood over the dry-cleaner’s box, thinking that the local establishment had finally capitulated and relinquished his clothing, which had long been held captive in the bowels of the dry-cleaning store. The war is finally over, and my father reigns victorious.

As destructive as the disease is, the onset was gradual, making the effects on the family less catastrophic than one might expect. He is still Dad, though in all honesty, he only vaguely resembles the man that inhabited his shoes years ago.

It is sad that a man who was once irrepressibly proud and often bombastically theatrical can no longer leave the house without someone to accompany him. He is still able to maintain a certain level of independence, however, and he is at least looked after by his family.

In many ways this is what the cycle of life is all about. We are in the primes of our lives as college students. Maybe we forget that health and youth are fleeting, and that the old were once young and full of vitality and life, like us. How we take advantage of our health is what counts. In his youth, my father did his best to live a full, meaningful life. That is really all any of us can do.

Bethania Palma can be reached at

More to Discover