Recently I’ve heard two stories about older people dealing with the difficulties of aging . Ray Bradbury’s short story: “A LITTLE JOURNEY: and “Rewinding The Big Picture” from the Adventures in Odyssey Library from Focus on the Family. Each story immediately brought me back to those days when we would experience the most peculiar conversations with my apa and still, even now that dad is resting in peace, that confounding dementia grabbed my emotions! It shook out more tears and unnecessary “what ifs.”
How was it that we were always surprised when dementia showed up? Most times it came at sundown, but slowly it creeped in more and more at random times of the day. Aver, see if I can share my story without offending.
My father was a darn good looking man and well groomed always. He prided himself in looking sharp. It was a very humbling thing for him to face the fact that his teeth were weak and deteriorating. Still, it took a lot of convincing, to get him to agree that it was time for him to replace his own teeth with dentures, at this point he was well advanced in age. Eventually he adjusted and included a careful cleaning of his teeth to his morning grooming routine.
Keeping His Independence
Then the season of caregiving began for him. We manipulated our lives and the hired caregivers to accommodate his life as much as possible without taking all his freedom. My apa who was in his 90s, fought to keep his independence. He insisted on having his space to do things on his own, especially his morning routine. On days we weren’t present he could manage by himself, most of the time. On those days we were “on call” for any emergencies that came up.
One morning, Marina was making her daily morning call to dad. That morning I happened to be visiting her for her birthday. He didn’t answer. Ok, no problem, maybe he was out of bed and getting ready. She dialed again, but he still didn’t answer. We went through the drill, keeping ourselves calm. She called relatives in town or his neighbor across the street to check on him. Meanwhile I kept trying. Finally he picked up the phone.
Case of the Stolen Teeth
“Apa! Que pasa?” He sounded agitated and I could tell he didn’t have his teeth in.
“Pues anoche vinieron los rateros y se llevaron mis dientes!”
“Que?!” He proceeded to tell me in colorful language that during the night two thieves had entered the house and had taken his teeth!
“Esos, M—- buenos para nada! entraron a media noche y se me dejaron sin dientes! Y de que les sirvió hacer eso?! “Those good for nothing rats came in the middle of the night and took my teeth! Why would they do that?!
At that moment I held my chuckle since he firmly believed his conclusion. I wondered at his reasoning. How could he understand that stealing someone’s teeth was a useless and stupid thing to do? Yet he absolutely believe it happened to him, while he was sleeping. His teeth had disappeared. Not on the nightstand, nor in the bathroom on the counter or on the floor, vanished. When the caregiver arrived to make and serve breakfast for him she found him still in the bathroom, angry and looking very much his age without his teeth in. Marina got on the phone with her while she looked again for his teeth, she went as far as checking under the bed but did not find them. Her time was ticking, she hurried to make him breakfast. Avena, Cream of Wheat should be easy to eat without teeth. Dad didn’t eat, his whole morning was ruined. The entire morning he sat in front of his tele, very conscious that his mouth was sunken in. When the caregiver returned, he asked her to get his teeth, forgetting they were lost. Dementia played those tricks on him, instead she tried getting him to eat something soft.
Meanwhile over at our end we too fretted over the missing teeth. Dad had to eat something other than jello. We brought the case to the God of the Universe. Asi es, we had been desperately praying, asking God for his help in this matter. The caregiver came back again in the afternoon determined to help us find my apas teeth. Did someone take those teeth? Marina was once again on the phone coaching her to look in the oddest places. Quien sabe, maybe, just maybe they’d appear in the fridge, or in the kitchen sink. She meticulously searched in the medicine cabinet and found them sitting in a white suppository container. It was exactly the same color and shape as the one dad used for his teeth. Mystery solved, case closed. But it wasn’t. We were confronted with the reality that our apa was losing his independence and so were we.
In the afternoon when I called to check on him, I recounted the whole episode to him and he laughed. He was amazed that he had spent half his day without his teeth! He also laughed at me for suggesting that he was blaming a thief, como pues? He just couldn’t imagine the whole silly story was true. “I think that living without my teeth would be quite difficult” He looked at me with eyes that said “Hay Rosalba, the things you come up with.”
Dealing with Dementia
That’s how it was with dementia lurking about, without rhyme or reason. It was incredibly confusing. We faced dementia everyday, equipped with our little ‘tools’ like redirection, counting to ten and using reason to diffuse it, but still It crept in and caused disruption. As suddenly as slipped in it would leave and sometimes we were left trembling with checked and unchecked emociones. That particular episode had worried and checked us, but after it was over and dad was fine, we laughed out loud at the preposterous visual of the tooth fairy quietly sneaking in and taking his teeth without leaving money 😅
La tercera edad can be very difficult, I’m so thankful that we were able to help my apa through it and that we ourselves came through it ok.