I became my father’s primary caregiver shortly after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I educated myself on the disease well; I knew the signs and symptoms, pathophysiology, treatment options, and of course, the typical prognosis.
Even then, I could not have anticipated all the highs and lows of being a family caregiver.
The disease impaired his ability to speak and understand speech. As time passed, he was eventually unable to speak at all, expect for a few words here and a few grunts there. This much I had expected and anticipated.
What I didn’t expect, however, was his ability to understand me and communicate with me without exchanging any words at all. Perhaps it is the lack of small talk or “busy conversation” that allowed us both to be more intuitive to one another’s feelings.
For example, when we are watching television together, I can tell which programming aggravates him and which he enjoys from the way his eyes move about. He no longer has to hide his love for Celine Dion music.
Similarly, he picks up on my feelings as well. One day I came home from a tough long day at work. As I was feeding him I felt tears come down my face as I tried to push the day’s events away from my thoughts. He did not (could not) ask what was wrong but he reached out and wiped away a tear on my cheek and gave me his napkin to dry my eyes.
He also shows his appreciation though he cannot express it verbally. When I help him get into bed and fix his pillow so that he is comfortable, he pats the back of my hand, as if to say thank you.
I am appreciative of these gestures and non-verbal communication. Though I do not know how things will change as his disease progresses, I am thankful that we can still express love to one another without saying anything at all.
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