aging parents, Alzheimer's, aspiration pneumonia, choking, dementia, parents, quality of life, thickening liquids
With the progression of my father’s Alzheimer’s, his physical condition has become increasingly frail.
The man who never ailed a thing throughout my entire childhood now gets recurrent bladder infections and pneumonia. He moves at a slow shuffle, and falls easily. His cheerful tenor voice has disappeared and he can’t speak above a hoarse whisper.
We went for dinner at a neighbour’s house. Her son was home for the holidays, and he hadn’t seen Dad in years. Dad taught him how to drive and he has always liked my father very much. He spent half an hour carefully shovelling new snow off of the front porch and driveway so that it would be easier to get Dad to the car, but Dad still slipped and fell into the snow, causing a big kerfuffle.
“It’s embarrassing,” Dad told me later when I asked how he was feeling. “I feel like a sissy.”
Once upon a time Dad would have been the one shoveling the driveway, and clearing off the car. But now he falls in the snow and is hustled, shivering, into the car by the boy he once taught to drive, who is now a thirty year old man.
For the most part, he bears it without complaint. Alzheimer’s robs its victims of their faculties and dignity, but my father had so much dignity to begin with that somehow he still has plenty left, and my mother does everything she can to keep him feeling well and able to live at home.
He chokes on his food a lot, and they think that this is the cause of at least one of his bouts of pneumonia, because he inhales stuff. So they told my mother that he shouldn’t be allowed to drink thin liquids any more, or eat food that is easy to accidentally inhale. Instead of water, he should have smoothies, and so on.
They gave her a list of all of the risky categories of food. That list is two pages long and seems to encompass every single kind of food there is.
So, my poor mother now has the burden of finding foods that do not stick together, but also don’t NOT stick together (??) and so on. She also has to thicken his all of his drinks. They gave her a pamphlet on that, too, with suggestions like adding pureed banana, tasteless “drink thickener”, or even baby pablum.
For example, to thicken soda pop (I swear I’m telling the truth), they advise whisking the pop thoroughly and then blending in pablum until it is nice and thick.
So Dad drinks a lot of smoothies now, since banana is a good thickener, and occasionally Mum lets him have some egg nog. He eats whatever she gives him to eat or drink without complaint, but I am sure he misses drinking water and milk like a normal person.
One night my mother poured me a glass of rosée, and my father came shuffling over. He pointed to the bottle and said in his new, husky, quiet voice, “don’t you think I should keep her company?”
“What’s that, dear?” my mother said distractedly, working on dinner.
He gestured at me. “It seems cruel to make her drink alone.”
“Oh, you want a glass of wine?”
“Just to be polite, you know,” he replied with a hint of a sparkle in his eye.
“Well, you’re not supposed to have that… I can get you some more thickened egg nog if you like…”
“Aren’t we going for quality of life over quantity at this point?” I said, exchanging amused glances with Dad.
“Yeah,” said Dad hopefully.
So Mum poured him a glass of wine. With no bananas in it at all.
Sometimes, it’s the little things in life.