How Palliative Care and Dolls Helped My Father Beat the Odds and Reclaim His Spark

Categories: Care.

My 92-year-old father, a retired army officer with two heart attacks (25% heart function), and advanced Alzheimer’s, fell critically ill in early September, 2023. He developed dysphagia, a common Alzheimer’s swallowing complication that worsened with the disease’s progression, leading to a lung infection. He feared eating and drinking as he aspirated food and choked. He became so weak that he had difficulty coughing and spitting.

His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he became unresponsive and withdrawn. His eyes lost their focus, his words became slurred, and he couldn’t even hold his head up.

I was advised by doctors to get his blood and urine tests to assess his condition, but he had stopped passing urine and trying to do a blood test in the condition my father was in, was unfathomable. Unless one has handled a person with advanced Alzheimer, one would not understand that giving an injection to a person who screamed if touched with a wet cloth was in no state to be injected. While caring for my father for over six years, I had decided that I would not let anyone force him with anything, let aside injecting him. I had no time to assess whether what I was doing was right or wrong, but I was sure of one thing: it would make my father miserable beyond imagination, and that was just not acceptable to me.

After receiving assurance from my esteemed mentor, Dr. M R Rajgopal (Chairman Emeritus, Pallium India), I no longer doubted my decision. With his guidance, blessings, and the support of a compassionate nurse, we successfully nursed my father back to health. We employed symptomatic treatment, administered chest physiotherapy, and used a nebulizer to deliver essential medication. Thanks to these efforts, we spared him the hardships of hospitalization and invasive procedures.

While we were able to get my father to bounce back physically, he remained silent and emotionless.

I spent sleepless nights wondering how to bring the spark back in his eyes. I knew that simply feeding him wouldn’t be enough.

One day, I remembered how much my father loved little toddlers. I turned on the Television and played funny videos of kids. His eyes lit up immediately, and he watched them endlessly. He even signaled to the others who were caring for him to watch the kid’s video. I was overjoyed to see his response and was also a bit confused when he insisted that he wanted those babies from the Television.

Refusing to risk the LIFE that had kicked back in my father, I sourced out real and life-like looking dolls for him. The effort definitely paid off. He was thrilled like never before. He spent hours teaching the dolls to say “good morning”, “good night,” and to identify their nose, hands, and eyes. In fact, he playing with these dolls and began using both his hands. (He would only use one hand before this episode.)

I’m overjoyed and grateful that I managed to bring LIFE back to my dad without any invasive tests or hospitalization. He is happy at home, surrounded by his loved ones. Even though he still has Alzheimer’s, his occasional restlessness is a blessing in comparison to his previous state. Now, it is like handling a demanding but loving child.

I am currently facing a sweet challenge because my dear one is now a huge Amitabh Bachchan fan who is hooked on to ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati.’ He keeps asking me about Mr Bachchan, and trust me, it’s no joke. I just hope his dementia helps him forget this obsession, even though his excitement is truly heart-warming.

I share my story to inspire others who are caring for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s or similar ailments. A few years ago, I knew nothing about palliative care until the diagnosis of my father’s Alzheimer’s. I have now learn that palliative care is a specialized approach which focusses on enhancing the comfort and quality of life for patients with serious illnesses, and for even those with terminal conditions like Alzheimer’s. My hope is that others find conviction in the power of palliative care through my journey.

 

 

About the Author:

Ms Punita Khatter is a seasoned professional, transitioning expertise towards elder care and palliative care. She has over two decades of proven success in the dynamic, demanding world of travel, events, and conferences.

While excelling in this industry, she is now pursuing deep-seated passion for elder care and palliative care (Senocare). Her desire to make a positive impact in the lives of elders and their families, combined with proven leadership and project management expertise, presents a promising path forward.

 

Note: This article is a republication from the January edition of the Indian Association of Palliative Care‘s free monthly e-newsletter.

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