Two million men in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.
More than 75% of caregivers in the United States are women. I don’t have the stats on how many of those women provide care for a father, but given the numbers, there must be quite a few.
My mother was the parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in our family. Obviously, given a choice, I would prefer that neither of my wonderful parents be plagued with dementia. However, I believe that caring long-term for my father, rather than my mother, would have been more complicated.
There is an emotional toll exacted on caregivers of loved ones with dementia. It is also levied against the person for whom care is provided. It might be exacerbated for a son caring for his mom, or a daughter for her dad. I can’t say for sure.
My father’s short bout with a terminal illness placed his daughters in the position of caring for him, but briefly. For a short time, he was forced to endure his little girls providing intimate care. He never balked or made it more difficult than it needed to be. Still, being a dad who was always there for his wife and kids, who was bigger than life itself, and was also a man’s man (in a good way), it couldn’t have been an easy route.
Dementia, Father’s Day, and Mom
As I am writing this column, I am also anticipating the upcoming Father’s Day. My thoughts turn to my father, as they often do. I am thinking back to the time my mother was diagnosed with dementia. It was a few years before my dad passed away. The diagnosis was very hard on him, not in terms of next steps or how he would care for her. That was his plan from the beginning.
As he became an octogenarian, my father didn’t fear leaving this earth, but he sometimes voiced another fear to his children. “I just worry about your mother.” He’d say. We tried often to assure him that Mom would be fine. We’d see to it. With a smile on his face and a chuckle in his voice he’d reply, “Listen, I’ve been looking after your momma for nearly 60 years. That Li’l Ol’ woman is my responsibility.”
These were two people who took their marriage vows very seriously. In nearly 60 years of marriage, they’d experienced “in sickness” multiple times, and they always came out strong “in health” on the other side, but the other side of dementia is more devastating. There’s only one outcome, and it is what my father dreaded. He dreaded mom growing less herself and the loss he knew would come.
The responsibility of care
Women make up 65% of those receiving care in the United States. Men, like my father, sometimes become their caregivers, but unlike 24% of male caregivers, Dad wouldn’t need to assist with dressing Mom. Unlike 16% of caregiving men, bathing his love wasn’t a responsibility either. It never came to that.
Our family was able to keep Mom’s disease at bay for a long while. Her dementia progressed, but slowly, due to early detection and medication. She and my father continued to enjoy one another, their family, and their friends. My parent’s lifestyle pretty much stayed the same, though my mother was always under my father’s watchful eye. He’d step in to “save” her from the occasional faux pas that could have potentially caused her embarrassment.
My father fell ill and went home three years before mom. Even on his deathbed he was distracted by his concern for her. “I am just worried about your mom,” he said.
Through sobs and tears, we assured him one last time, “We’re going to take care of Mom. You don’t have to worry. We will take care of her.” We had said it many times, but this time it sounded more like a pledge. It was.
Dad must have felt satisfied. We had a very real sense that this time he believed us and was comforted by our promise. We weren’t met with, “That Li’l Ol’ lady is my responsibility.” She was now ours and it was a privilege to keep our promise to our devoted father.
To all you daughters caring for fathers, and sons caring for mothers, happy belated Father’s Day. We salute you!
Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.
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