When Alzheimer's disease walks into your home

Raghubar Das left home one morning without a trace, leaving his entire family in distress and confusion

Nipen

Hiten is an engineer by profession, well-educated and hard-working, had a career that was progressing well. Based in Kolkata, he was well regarded amongst both his friends and detractors for his go-getting, never-say-die, come-what-may enthusiasm to take on professional challenges. He is married to Sunanda and they have two lovely and intelligent daughters.
Sunanda’s sister Tanuja and brother Supriyo are both working professionals; they and their families live in Kolkata and California respectively. Sunanda’s mother Madhurima Das and father Raghubar Das live in the same city within a 10 kilometer radius.

About a year ago, post 10 pm on a Friday, both Sunanda and Tanuja received frantic calls from their mother. Their father, Raghubar had left home in the morning and hadn’t returned yet. His phone was switched off. Both Sunanda and Tanuja rushed to be with their mother. They combed the streets, tried to lodge a police complaint and finally decided to just wait it out. Madhurima Das, their mother was inconsolable, and talked about how Raghubar had becomes absent-minded, sometimes behaved irrationally, slept at odd hours and walked in his sleep.

Hiten filed a missing person report with the police, who informed him that they couldn’t take any action until after 24 hours had passed. Having already combed the streets of the city with no avail, they decided to wait it out.

Fortunately, Raghubar returned home at 2 am. When the family asked him where he had been, he said he was at the mela three streets away, and was talking to the organizers as they packed up at 11 pm. This was very unlike him. Exhausted but relieved that he had come home, the family returned to their bases.

Before his retirement, Raghubar had served in the Indian army. He was a sports person too. They knew him as a disciplined man who took care of the smallest details of anything he did. Now, he was behaving entirely differently; and this left his family perplexed.

Sunanda managed to convince her father to get a full health checkup, and the diagnosis was unexpected: Raghubar was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. They were told that he had been ill for a few years now. The news was unexpected. Until now, the family - and especially his wife - found it strange that Raghubar did something out of the ordinary. But they’d never thought that he’d have a neurodegenerative illness.

A year since the diagnosis, Raghubar needs constant attention; his appetite is lower than usual, he is no longer interested in his food, and doesn’t even seem to notice if the things that he once managed meticulously are found in disarray.

Madhurima hasn’t yet come to terms with her husband’s illness and is finding it hard to cope. While she wants to do everything that she can for Raghubar, she finds herself being unable to stay empathetic and patient. The family has seemed to find their ways of helping Madhurima manage.

Raghubar’s illness has taken a toll on everyone in the family - including his daughters and Hiten, my friend. Hiten is trying to juggle the care of his father-in-law and his daughters’ education. He doesn’t speak much about about it we meet; but I sense that he’s stressed, and is aware it’ll only get harder - and that it may advance rapidly.

Raghubar’s condition is still such that he can be cared for at home. The family knows that they may have to enroll him in a geriatric care facility if things worsen, but they are yet to come to terms with this idea.

Alzheimer’s disease is hard on people (family and friends) irrespective of proximity. What Raghubar needs is care and tenderness from his loved ones.

Names in this personal account have been changed on request.