High up on my list of fears is Alzheimer's. It may not be my #1 fear, I mean what if I got a really yucky bug in my mouth? That's creepy. But, it's safe to say that my fear of Alzheimer's is pretty far up on the list.
So, today we went to go visit my wife's father who is far down the Alzheimer's path. His wife, who is some kind of saint, cared for him at home for many years, but eventually was unable to provide the 24-hour-a-day care that he required, so now he's in a facility that specializes in Alzheimer's.
I've met the man a few times before but I never really got to know him before the disease began to change the man. Each time I've seen him over the last decade he's been in a slightly worse state. These days he gets a lot of help doing simple things like eating or walking. He speaks a bit, but it seems to be more from a knowledge that syllables are what's expected rather than an actual ability to converse.
His new home is a pretty nice place that is well-staffed and seems to provide the assistance that he needs. Still, his life is immeasurably improved by the daily visits that his wife makes. She gets him to exercise, makes sure that he eats, and gives him the attention and affection that paid attendants can't really provide. I can't be certain that he knows who she is, but he surely seems to appreciate her visits on some levels.
Similarly, although he couldn't have recognized his granddaughter (or me) he smiled widely when she danced for him and displayed her usual energy and exuberance. He was a dancer and a choreographer back in his day so seeing a small cute girl doing twirls and jumps brought him some sort of pleasure.
My wife handles these visits with an impressive strength and calm. She does her best to reach out and bring her father comfort. She and her step-mom do a remarkable job of bringing smiles to a man who gives few clues as to what he's thinking. They're both inspirational to me.
I'm still fairly terrified of getting this disease myself, or having one of my loved ones afflicted by it, but it was useful for me to see that there are people stronger than I am, and that there is still a bit of joy to be found even in the throes of Alzheimer's.