This World Alzheimer’s Day, guest writer Nitin Rao recalls losing his father to Alzheimer’s, and how it changed his and the entire family’s life.
Nitin Rao is a management consultant based in New York, with roots in Bangalore. He uses OurHealthMate for his family’s healthcare needs. In 2003, Rao’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a disease that slowly robbed him and his family of their spark, spirit, and strength. In this piece, Nitin shares how he would have tackled his father’s disease differently if he could go back in time.
I’d just moved halfway across the world to Paris when my dad called me one breezy Friday evening to find out how things were going. I slid a frozen dinner into the microwave as I settled onto the hotel recliner to fill him in on my week, my boss, my job and my futile attempts at finding an affordable home in the suburbs. I asked him how things were with him, at home in Bangalore.
“They’re fine,” he informed me, “Everyone’s fine”. Great, I thought.
The microwave started beeping, signaling the end of its twenty-minute run, and I tried to round off the conversation with a time-honored parting gesture – asking about my mother.
“She’s fine,” he said, “she’s just stepped out for…” And then he paused. I could feel him willing a word, a person – a memory – to complete the sentence he’d started.
“For Nina akka’s wedding?” I prodded, hastily trying to end the call while whisking out my microwave dinner.
He mumbled something incoherently that I took for a yes. We said our goodbyes and I sank into my seat for an evening of coq au vin and French satellite television. That night should have been my first clue that something was wrong.
After that conversation, Appa’s memory became increasingly volatile – although the slide was gradual at first. He would forget where he’d kept his glasses. Occasionally forget the neighbor’s name. Seemingly, innocuous things that could happen to the best of us. Except in his case, they happened often. We blew it off, attributing it to age. After all, he was 70.
It was when he failed to recognize a close cousin at a family get-together that we became really concerned. We had harbored suspicions about his declining memory, but none of us had voiced them for fear of confirmation. And yet, the diagnosis confirmed our fears. My Appa had middle-stage Alzheimer’s.
Over the next decade, my father went from being full of life and light to a shadow of his former self. He struggled to put on clothes, needed help bathing and shaving, and couldn’t be trusted to walk to the corner grocery store – one he’d frequented for years. It was painful to see him regressing – but even more so, to think that we hadn’t recognized – or voiced – his symptoms sooner. With timely intervention, we could have helped slow his decline.
Those ten years were the hardest for my mother. With me over 13,000 kilometers away, she bravely fought this battle single-handed. Even then, I saw her soul crack a little every time he forgot her name. When my father passed away in 2013, he took a piece of my mother’s soul with him. And when she followed him two years later, she took a piece of mine.
If I could go back in time, I would act sooner. I’d visit home more often and mandate annual health check-ups for both my parents. I’d give more importance to Friday night conversations and less, to microwave dinners. Maybe, just maybe, if I could reverse the clock and do things over, I could keep my dad and mom around for longer.
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