Denny Carleton

My Father's Alzheimer's

My father, who had Alzheimer's, had one main relief from his confusion, pain and crossed wires. By God's grace it was music. Being a full time musician, this situation truly helped me grow as it kept me going professionaly. While he was able to, there was nothing better which my father liked than to see me perform and hear me sing. This motivated me to try to further excel in my music and performances, plus it brought me into the concept of using musical tones for healing and therapy.

We all have heard of the dark side of Alzheimer's, the slow slipping away etc., but there is another way of looking at it. It is gradual way to say goodby, rather than a sudden non-existance of a loved one.. There is also a lighter side to some of the incidents, if you have eyes to see. My dad could be a pistol and, although difficult for my mother who was the care giver, he was usually a joyfor me. He became very childlike and spoke in abstract concepts. which appealed to my creative side. He called his shoes "shugs", refused to give a urine specimen to the doctor because he never heard of doing it that way and never went to the bathroom that way before. He said he liked to go to the bathroom at home in that big thing filled with water. He told the doctor, "If you want to do it so much like that You do it that way!"

My father could not remember my mom's name until one day when he was taken to the hospital. He was hoisted in a giant net of a scale to be weighed. As he dangled in the net, he cried out for the first time in years, "Irene!" When your caught in a trap, all of a sudden you remember are the names of the people who really can help you.

But as I said, music was the way out for him. My father would often sit in front of the T.V. for hours, watching country music videos, with the music relaxing him when nothing else could. My theory about this is that Alzheimer patients, at the beginning stages, are frustrated at first and embarrassed when they can't have conversations or follow logic. But music is not logical, so they can join in with everyone else on equal footing. Music reaches in to their hearts, reminds them of all that is harmonious and good, and often brings back precious memories which words and logic cant express. That's my theory.

If he were having a particularly bad day, imagining that someone was stealing his car or hurting his sister, my mom would call and summon me. I became the Pied Piper of Musical Healing, playing a song to soothe his weary soul. He would leave his world of confusion immediately after the music started and began to clap his hands, smiled and conducted his imaginary band in his head. It never failed.

On another bad day, he was fighting an imaginary person in his head, yelling and pointing at someone who wasn't there. I started playing my guitar and then he would and smile. I experimented once and talked to him instead of playing music and he said he would punch me out. Then I sang and he was happy and content. Truly amazing.

However, even Alzheimer patients have their limits. When we would go to my aunts on Thanksgiving, we would keep my father occupied with headphones to listen to classical music to keep him out of mischief. On one occaision, he began to get anxious and began to take off his headphones after listening for quite a while. I'd say, "why don't you put your headphones on and listen to more music dad?" He said, "if you like it so much you try it. I've been listening for 3 hours!"

Alzheimer's isn't easy, but I really believe our loved ones, who are stuck with this terrible disease, would prefer us to keep (as much as possible) some humor and lightness about the situation. The last thing they would want would be to burden us. And I'll give you a useful tip from someone who survived someone who went through the care-giving Alzheimer's experience. Try some music! From personal observation, it seems to be a wonderful soothing experience for those who suffer with Alzheimer's. It may not be acure but it's a wonderful distraction and a good band aid.