THE BLOG

Dementia Through the Eyes of a Child

07/15/2014 12:43 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2014
Elizabeth Flora Ross

We were unable to have my father with us for Thanksgiving. He is not comfortable leaving what is now his home. And, his behavior is so bizarre it would have been too stressful and painful to try to have him be part of our celebration.

It is one of the reasons I had been dreading the holidays.

Before heading to my mom's to celebrate, however, my daughter and I and I stopped by to visit with Dad for a bit. I had to call before we went, because he has not been in the best of shape recently. He is suffering from paranoia.

My father has become convinced two nonexistent men are trying to kill him. He locks himself in his room, sometimes in the bathroom within his room, and refuses to come out without an escort he trusts.

It has been difficult for my mom and the staff to both watch his condition deteriorate as well as manage it. You cannot reason with someone in his state of mind. The paranoia is real to him. You have to treat him with extreme care, work to calm and reassure him, and understand his mind is torturing him.

His anxiety level has been so high, I was not comfortable taking my daughter to see him. I felt if she heard him talking about people trying to kill him, she would be terrified. It could seem as real to her as it does to him. And as much as I have talked to her about dementia, I did not know how to handle this issue with her.

Fortunately, on Thanksgiving he was having a good day. The paranoia was at bay, perhaps due to a change in his medications. Or perhaps simply because that is how dementia is. But she and I were both pleased to be able to go see him.

She had hand made Thanksgiving cards for all the members of our family, telling each why she is thankful for him or her. On BaBop's card, she listed "You are a silly man, you make me laugh, you give great hugs and you share your fish crackers with me."

She was very eager to give the card to him. We found him in his room with the door unlocked. He was fully dressed and sitting in his chair. Neither is common for him these days.

He was pleased to see us and loved her card. We went for a walk around the facility, the two of them holding hands. When we got to the common area, she found a red balloon on the floor and began to play a game with it. Her objective, keep it in the air and not let it touch the floor.

In the beginning, the residents sitting around the room were withdrawn, as is typical. Some watched with interest, many with detachment, some not at all. But then an amazing thing happened.

They began to play with her.

One by one, every resident in the room began to reach out when the balloon came close, attempting to hit it up in the air. She didn't realize they were trying to participate at first, and continued as if playing by herself. Then she caught on, and would stand back when a resident wanted to take a turn.

It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It brought tears to my eyes. My small child managed to draw the residents out of their isolation, their closed worlds, their tortured minds. Through her innocence and exuberance, she enticed a room full of dementia patients to play with her.

I took this short video early on, and it does not fully capture the true beauty of the moment:

Mostly, I stood back and watched and was incredibly moved. From the very beginning, my young daughter has approached the residents in my dad's facility with empathy, acceptance, compassion, and an amazing grace.

I have worried a great deal along our journey about how to approach my father's dementia with her, and how she would handle the situation. But in this beautiful moment, I had no worries, only pride.

This post originally appeared at The Writer Revived. It is part of a series I am sharing here concerning my family's journey with dementia. My father passed away March 10, 2014.