By LuAnne Nickell Prevost
October 2007 was a monumental time for my family. That was when we received the official diagnosis my father had dementia that would lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
As we researched the causes of this disease it seemed almost impossible that my father, a retired Baptist minister — whose mind was always active through years of seminary, writing and delivering sermons and caring with great compassion for the members of his congregations — would be stricken with this degenerative disease.
None of his 10 siblings had any sign of dementia, and his father, who lived to be 100 years old, could recall with great clarity standing on the courthouse steps in Paducah, Ky., listening to a stirring speech by a vibrant young politician named William Jennings Bryan.
The journey has been painful and heartbreaking. However, as we have walked with my father we have found many moments of joy, laughter and thankfulness.
Second only to my father’s love of preaching and ministering was his love of music. He never received any formal training, but his warm and rich bass voice was frequently heard as a solo in the various churches he served.
The love and appreciation for music continues to be an outlet of connection for him as a foot taps and fingers display the beat while those deep, resonating notes emanate from his voice — sometimes with words, but more often as joyful sounds.
Music searches the recesses of his mind, as it can be associated with important events and emotions. The connection to a song or piece of music can be so strong that hearing the work after a long period of time evoked a related memory.
This has been witnessed as my father may project a flat affect and then suddenly tap his toe or mouth the words to the song being played. A countenance that was once neutral becomes filled with recognition, a scene that defies description.
Attending church and cultural events became increasingly difficult, but my mother was determined to keep my father engaged in society through music. They were frequently seen at various churches and concert venues enjoying the talents and gifts of the musicians and performers. As his cognitive abilities have continued to diminish his love and appreciation for music have not, but his ability to attend has halted.
The residential facility where he now resides has many offerings for Alzheimer’s patients, including music. Various singers and musicians frequent his new home and share their gifts of music with those whose recognition is limited but appreciation is great.
As the church works to serve and minister to the community, those who once served the church continue to need ministry. Isolation is a reality for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.
It can be awkward and uncomfortable to be in the presence of my father, but he will always appreciate your smile and handshake. Ministering to my father is no different than anyone else; your presence is valued, and if you bring a CD player and music, you may receive an unexpected joy.
Alzheimer’s disease has robbed my father of his cognitive abilities, but it will never steal the memories our family treasures. Nor will it take away the 50-plus years of sharing the message of God’s love.