Trying to keep my elderly father’s brain young is making mine feel old. Attending to his schedule of stimulation and enrichment is downgrading my own. Dates, times, activities and appointments spew out for the weeks ahead. Forget helicopter parenting, I am quickly mastering the art of helicopter daughtering. However, with the festive season fast approaching, activities are winding down for the year, propelling me into a spin.
Keeping abreast of my dad’s busy schedule fulfills many roles: to spark his social life, prevent no shows and significantly premature shows - all challenges associated with early Alzheimer’s and short-term memory loss.
I am now a scheduling maven. Quick Draw McGraw ain’t got nothing on me! Dentist? Sure. Periodontist or general? This Thursday or next Thursday? This week’s an ‘on’ week at the local community centre, whilst next week is an ‘off’ week. My email inbox brims with newsletters from community centres as well as activities and appointments for the weeks ahead. Google clearly has me pegged as a middle class male in the 65 plus age group, as my pop up feed bursts with the very latest offerings in luxury residential aged care.
Like a guardian angel, I hover at a distance, trying to maximize his day-to-day life satisfaction, safeguarding him from any impending disasters. I map out his schedule, balancing enrichment and stimulation. Under stimulated. Over stimulated. It all amounts to the same thing. An irascible octogenarian.
To preserve half-century friendships I orchestrate ‘play’ dates. Shouting into the telephone receiver to family friends who have known me as my father’s daughter their whole lives, I introduce myself time and again, enquiring about their health and news of the family. Hearing hesitation at their end, I quickly add that my dad’s failure to communicate can be explained by his Russian roulette approach to dialing numbers. You never quite know what to expect. Another pregnant pause, amidst a whir of cognitive and/or auditory processing. I do hope they want to have a ‘play’ date and haven’t ditched my dad for another friend. Or could it be they are still trying to ascertain who I am?
Yet on occasion I pat myself on the back, immensely satisfied at being able to arrange a lunch, afternoon tea or 5.30pm dinner. Well in theory anyway. In practice, anything can and does happen. Confusion about days, a last minute medical emergency, or even the totally unanticipated. An arrangement with Herbert X, muddled with Herbert Y, resulting in unadulterated chaos for everyone.
My favorite activities are senior’s day trips. More time for me (no, I didn’t really write that. You must have just overheard that mischievous voice in my head). So when dad informed me he was joining the local community group’s day trip to Healesville, I was delighted. A great opportunity to share a few laughs with whomever he was seated next to on the coach, enjoy some crisp country air, and the added bonus - a hot lunch. Did I mention it was for a whole day, returning at 5pm?
The night before the Healesville outing, dad called, warning me that he’d be out the whole day. Excellent, a whole day to myself! I started skipping a mini happy dance. At 2.00pm the phone rings.
“Dad, you’re back early. Did you have a nice time…?”
“Yes, we had an interesting tour of the city.”
But you were supposed to go to Healesville.
“I don’t think so. It was Melbourne CBD.”
Even the best helicopter daughter can’t control everything. The poor man had unwittingly joined the second tour option, the Balwyn Blokes city tour. The upshot of short-term memory loss is that by day’s end, he had totally forgotten about the scones he’d been promised in picturesque Healesville, and was quite content with a sandwich in the hubbub of the city.
Now, with Xmas and the New Year fast approaching next month’s calendar is looking particularly spartan. I count in my head five whole weeks until Term 1 activities resume. Noooo!!! My festive streak is quickly fading. What will happen to his weekly routine? I’m not selfless. What will happen to my weekly routine? I’m so used to days beginning with his call; “So, what’s on today?” and happily relaying the agenda de jour. What will I do? He needs to socialize with people his own age (give or take a decade!)
I am like a puppet without strings. No activities. In this season of good cheer, how will I uphold my dad’s good cheer? A feeling of dread slowly rises. My pulse quickens and anxiety levels surge. We are both going cold turkey. And here was I beginning to question whether being a helicopter daughter was all that it was hyped up to be. I relish the opportunity to resume control again. Bring it on! I think I’m a natural.