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It’s a good thing you sent Bobbin to the bathroom with me because they moved it.

May 13, 2013

Over the past few months I’ve watched movies depicting male protagonists with fathers suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While the actors portraying said fathers fulfill only minor roles according to the credits, they add major depth to the plots for me.

In 50/50 Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a twenty-something who develops a malignant spinal tumor, and surmises via Internet research he has a 50% chance to survive. Although the majority of the film revolves around Levitt’s coping with his diagnosis and the toll it takes on his relationships with family, friends, and his girlfriend, a few scenes illustrate the painful distance between Levitt and his father – a distance widened, I believe, by Alzheimer’s disease. At one point Levitt’s father introduces himself to his own son as if they never had met. Later the father responds dispassionately when Levitt says “I love you” before undergoing traumatic spinal surgery. My father recognizes me and still frequently asks about my cat. However, his apathy gradually has increased over the past year. Daddy’s always thoughtful furrowed brow has become a crinkled confused gaze – much like the vacant expression that remains on Levitt’s father. I guess I would call that harrowing look Alzheimer’s Stare.

My husband Ryan lay comatose in front of Friends with Benefits one Sunday evening, and I caught snippets of the story while flitting around the house. However, a strong subplot grabbed my attention. Justin Timberlake’s father has Alzheimer’s disease and requires supervision. Timberlake asks his buddy to check on his father periodically while he’s out one evening, but explains to his father that his friend needs to borrow the kitchen instead.

“I know you’re sending him over to check on me,” his father responds [in a nutshell], still quite cognizant of his condition.

daddy-tasteI often wonder if Daddy understands just how much his personality has dissipated, or if the majority of his social withdrawal can be attributed to memory loss, not identity atrophy. After all, conversations often revolve around recent personal events, the news, and other topics involving the retention of new information.

This weekend my family dined at a hole-in-the-wall oyster bar to celebrate Timber’s graduation from Physician Assistant school. When Daddy announced he was going to use the restroom, I flung myself over our picnic table to follow him, in case he became disoriented or lost.

When we returned to the table he said, “It’s a good thing you sent Bobbin to the bathroom with me because they moved it.” (I had accompanied him there a half hour prior as well.)

How demoralizing it must be to recognize you have to be babysat; how inspiring my father is for carrying on with a sense of humor.

The simplicity of our beer orders, even, became chaotic. Ryan requested a Yuengling; me, a Blue Moon; Daddy, a Miller Lite. However, when the waitress dropped off our brews, Daddy seemed confident he had asked for the Yuengling. To the waitress, we probably looked catty, ruthless, crazy.

“Well you know I’ve got this memory problem,” Daddy finally conceded.

At dinner the next night I watched Daddy grind his teeth – a habit he has formed since developing Alzheimer’s. I often grind my teeth while engaging in an intense daydream or thought; maybe that means Daddy’s brain is wheeling with activity after all.

I appreciate Hollywood’s recent inclusion of minor characters with Alzheimer’s disease. If a movie character were based on my father, he should be the focus, the hero.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2013 8:34 pm

    Alzheimer’s is also the plot device driving Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It kept the film grounded in reality. Excellent observation, Bobbin.

    • May 13, 2013 8:54 pm

      I didn’t know that! I also have heard of Away from Her, which involves a woman with Alzheimer’s who moves into a nursing home, loses memory of her living husband, and develops a relationship with another nursing home resident. I’m not sure I have the strength to watch it.

      I hope Mother’s Day was happy in your household!

      • May 13, 2013 9:13 pm

        Yeah, I’d steer clear of that movie. I rocked Mothers Day like you wouldn’t believe 🙂

        Watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’d love your take on it. John Lithgow has the condition. James Franco is trying to cure him. It’s actually really good.

  2. Timber permalink
    June 8, 2013 5:46 pm

    I definitely think his social withdrawal is due to inability to follow conversation. It’s too bad, because he still retains his characteristic wit!

    • June 10, 2013 8:00 am

      Yeah, it sucks. I can’t imagine what it’s like for him.

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