1) Keep your face close, not just to hold his gaze, which can wander and lose focus quickly unless engaged, but also to let him know that you are right there with him. When your past is tough to grasp in the confusion and memory-erosion of Alzheimer’s, and you’ve lost your ability to conceptualize the future, the moment is ALL YOU HAVE. So make it special.
So, having brought Byron back from the abyss of his fog in March, our team set to raise his quality of life as high as possible. We filled the days with whatever stimulation seemed to positively affect him the most. That meant loads of piano-playing, mnemonics, and whatever physical activities in which he took an interest. Which brings us to the now.
So with Mr. Driftwood seemingly fully enshrouded in Alzheimer’s final stage, and beleaguered by all manner of physical ailments that we did and didn’t know about, we set to work on drawing him from his fog. I laid bare my caregiving toolbox and tried all of the tricks that had ever helped Byron engage himself or his surroundings. Specifically, I tried all of the mnemonics that had ever gotten a rise out of him. His favorite old movie stars had always been my best assets for helping him speak.
I returned to New York on January 1st of this year. Within the first few minutes of seeing Byron again, I realized that he was in very bad shape. For starters, his posture was horrible. He was quite hunched, and often slumped way over to one side of his wheelchair. He was nearly silent and very difficult to reach verbally and emotionally. Most disturbing to me was that he was constantly grinding his teeth, though crunching them is more accurate. It was a rough reckoning for me to see him so absent and clearly in distress. I spent my first week trying to access Byron’s core, that emotional part of him that I had been able to connect with so seamlessly over the past 4 years. Even in his (or my) roughest patches, I usually have had success eliciting from Mr. Driftwood a laugh or smile when I really throw my heart and soul into it. But Byron seemed gone, both mind and body. He was a shell of his former self.