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The dogs and I want to know what we’re having for supper.

May 11, 2012

I recently read an Atlantic article discussing new evidence that people with a strong sense of purpose are better equipped to withstand the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

…most of us — regardless of whether we develop clinical symptoms of “Alzheimer’s disease” or not — will accumulate harmful amounts of plaque and tangles in our brains as we age. Autopsies show that. What the [Rush University Medical Center] researchers’ results indicate is that having a strong sense of purpose in life, especially beyond the age of 80, can give a person’s brain the ability to sustain that damage and continue to function at a much higher level.

Daddy has been hit with a double whammy of circumstances that would rob anyone of feelings of self-worth: Alzheimer’s-related memory loss and because of that, no choice but to retire. I often hear about recent retirees’ boredom and their decision to return to work full- or part-time. I suppose a steady job gives a lot of people a reason to get out of bed; otherwise, they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves – and understandably so. Daddy dedicated his life to his career and God: out of bed by 4 a.m., coasting down the driveway at 7 and arriving home around 6 – sometimes 10 on stressful days. Plus he attended church on Wednesdays as well as Sunday mornings and nights, and served as a deacon. Daddy brainstormed a repository of diverse and fulfilling ideas for his retirement: volunteer at Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega; work part-time as a Wal-Mart greeter per his love to meet new people and talk; start trout fishing again; visit fellow church members in the hospital and at home; chauffeur the elderly to the doctor and other appointments. Unfortunately, all of these activities require transportation, and Daddy no longer can safely operate a vehicle. And even if driving weren’t an issue, the social anxiety that accompanies memory loss has deteriorated his formerly gregarious nature.

So, I worry that Daddy spends most of the day napping and watching TV, instead of keeping his brain stimulated and as protected as possible against disease progression. In my “Style over Calendars” post I mentioned Mother’s efforts to provide Daddy with a list of daily chores, so he can cross off tasks accomplished and feel useful. However, the calendaring system lasted only a few days. For nearly 30 years, Daddy made a living while Mother put equal effort into raising Timber and me, and maintaining an orderly home. I’m not surprised that Daddy finds difficulty making the bed, washing the dishes and sweeping the sidewalks when Mother spent three decades completing those chores.

Daddy’s inactivity frustrates Mother. She spent one entire afternoon sweating in the yard while Daddy rotated between the computer and couch. He wandered outside twice to ask Mother a couple questions: “Lynn, do we have any chocolate sauce I can put on this ice cream?” –and– “Lynn. The dogs and I want to know what we’re having for supper.”

Daddy goes to the gym with Mother three days a week and constantly reads – but no one can read all day, and Daddy doesn’t retain much material. After watching a movie, he can’t recall the title or plot. What, then, would bring him fulfillment day to day?

When I call to ask Daddy how he’s doing, he always says, “I’m great! I’ve got a beautiful wife, two wonderful daughters and perfect pets.” I wonder how much he means that. In my world, Daddy is a husband and father, but his existence expands beyond his familial role.

While a substantial part of our purpose is to love and be loved, we need more on which to stand alone. I hope Daddy’s ambitions somehow will shift from the noise of a carpet mill to the quiet of home.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Timber permalink
    June 16, 2012 11:48 am

    Well that’s silly. The dogs don’t even get supper. I, too, wish Daddy had something to occupy his time. He could volunteer somewhere if Mother would be willing to drop him off and pick him up…and if he were comfortable with the people there. Maybe we can find something for him to do!

  2. June 16, 2012 1:22 pm

    I hope so. It’s a frustrating situation. I really wish Daddy’s good friends lived closer; I’m sure they’d love to take him out if distance didn’t prevent it.

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