In 2001, our father, then 76, was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. He had always been a gentle and polite man, as well as outgoing and talkative, but over time he became less engaged. He slept more and ate little. He cared less about his personal appearance and often would forget to shower and shave or brush his teeth and comb his hair.
We watched from 2,000 miles away as our parents adapted and adjusted. We knew there were times when our dad wandered. Luckily, he always managed to run into helpful people—teenagers who sensed something wasn't quite right and called for help, EMTs who came to know him by name, even an alert bus driver who sensed a problem and provided assistance.
As time passed, our father needed help waking up in the morning, getting into and out of bed, eating, showering, and walking. Some days he would sleep 20 hours or more. He was increasingly confused about where he was.
Our mother's life was upended as she struggled to care for our dad, making sure he was well-nourished, hydrated, and taking his medications as prescribed. She had alarms installed on all exterior doors of the house. She learned to enter his world because, increasingly, he had difficulty being part of hers.
Over the years, our mom noticed that our dad seemed to find great comfort in viewing family photos, reading old Christmas cards, and listening to the music of their generation. He also enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, picture books, and TV game shows. In our search for an activity that would provide him with a sense of satisfaction, we discovered a company that transforms family photos into high-quality 30-piece puzzles.
The activity proved to be a hit. The puzzle pieces, roughly 3.5 × 3.5 inches, were easy for him to handle. He could work on the puzzles with others or complete them on his own. They were a wonderful way for his caregivers and therapists to learn more about him. They were also helpful when our mom needed to redirect his attention. And we're confident the puzzles enabled our father to enjoy some of the highlights of his life as his memories slowly faded.
Our dad's days were brightened by these puzzles, which provided pleasure, comfort, and fond memories, until he passed away on January 23, 2016. Now more than ever, we treasure those completed puzzles.
Twins Missy and Mindy Dalgarn are semi-retired and live in Galena, IL. Missy's career was in human resources while Mindy was a teacher and a school administrator. The sisters are the founders of the Mop Shop, a charitable organization that provides cleaning supplies to those in need in Jo Daviess County, IL. This essay was adapted from an article published in the May 2016 issue of Julien's Journal, a lifestyle magazine in Dubuque, IA.