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  • Writer's pictureJill Smith, RN

What Dad taught me about Alzheimer's Disease

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

"I know that I only know 30% of what I used to know"

My dad said this to me about a year before he passed away. I repeat this quote often in my classes. When dad said it to me he knew his capacity for intellectual comprehension was slipping away. He asked me a lot of questions about what was happening to him. At the time, I didn't know much about Alzheimers but we journeyed together doing the best with what we knew. Dad died on May 1, 2016; four years ago and this began a new journey for me - consulting and training others & honoring Dad's memory.

I often repeat Dad's words. They help us understand two ideas:

1. A person living with dementia spends much of their time trying to solve problems- perhaps even the whole day. Every detail of their day may produce conflict, confusion, and frustration. Dad's statement was his effort to problem solve what was happening to him.

What we are learning about best practices for caring for a person with dementia is that we are the key to their need to problem solve. We must problem solve with them and if we chose to ignore that role the conflicts, confusion and frustration will certainly increase as the disease progresses.

2. Dad knew 'it' was happening to him. He figured out he had lost much - he even calculated it. He had a strong intellectual capacity and it probably soothed him to have created a percentage toward his loss. He knew that he didn't know what he used to know.

Sometimes family caregivers ask if their loved one is even aware of their brain change problems. While the disease is stealing so much of one's brain, we know that many connections still remain. Dad remained engaged in an effort to understand his disease as long as he could.

Eventually, Dad stopped asking questions about his disease. We starting talking about his younger years in the Navy - the same story every time - until their were no more words to express it.

Helping others to understand this disease produces a variety of emotions for me. It is rewarding to improve the life of persons who are living with dementia. In my work, I am often reminded of my dad. Sometimes I wish I could have him back so that I could do for him what I have learned to do for others. I always miss him, but its comforting to know that when I share his words, they will continue to bring life to others and that is enough for me. Thank you Dad.

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