I acknowledge the hallucination and what he is seeing because for him it is real
I could hear a crackling of plastic as my father-in-law approached the table for breakfast on Sunday. He wasn’t holding anything, and I couldn’t figure out what was making the sound. Then I looked down at his feet and stifled a gasp. I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh at his odd choice of footwear or be impressed by his ingenuity.
Let me explain. My father-in-law has Alzheimer’s and is currently preoccupied with his feet. He has lumbar spinal stenosis and walking short distances or standing in place for more than a minute or two is painful. He also feels tingling on the bottom of his feet. His doctors and the caregivers from the senior center are helping him manage his pain with medication and movement.
Even though he is very mobile, my father-in-law has been deeply troubled by his condition. He insists that there are red bumps on the bottom of his feet. For him, it is real. He spends hours checking his feet. My husband and I have examined them closely and cannot see anything. His toenails are in good condition, and his soles are smooth. You would never guess they were the feet of an 88-year-old retired farmer.
I’ve learned that when dealing with Alzheimer’s and especially hallucinations, it’s important to acknowledge what he sees because HE really sees it. It doesn’t help to disagree with him. It’s not a good idea to ignore him either because he will come up with his own solutions. Sometimes these solutions are clever, and sometimes they make me want to slap my forehead and groan.
Since I am not an expert and cannot see the bumps, my father-in-law was happy last week when I suggested a visit to the doctor. The doctor acknowledged his concern and kindly prescribed an ointment he could rub into his feet twice a day. My father-in-law was pleased, and I was relieved because he had a safe solution to the problem he was perceiving.
Unfortunately, the solution escalated into a much bigger problem a few days later. I went to his room to let him know dinner was ready and noticed he was rubbing his face. He told me the red bumps had spread and asked me for the second tube of ointment. Uh oh…my safe solution had totally backfired! My father-in-law now claimed that he had red bumps all up and down his legs, on his belly and even on his face. Of course, before dismissing it as part of his hallucination, I checked to make sure it wasn’t a real rash or even shingles. Sure enough, there were no red bumps.
The next day, while my father-in-law was away at the senior center, the manager and physical therapist visited our home for a quarterly assessment. They had already talked with my father-in-law and heard all about the red bumps. Like me, they had been worried that he might have shingles. We compared notes and confirmed that there were no bumps. Though we were all relieved to be on the same page, my father-in-law was still obsessed with the red bumps.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. My father-in-law decided to take care of the red bumps his own way. He slathered his feet with a thick layer of ointment and then covered them both with plastic shopping bags neatly tied at the ankle. He explained that he didn’t want any germs from the red bumps or ointment to contaminate the floor. He stayed home with the plastic bags on his feet all day.
My father-in-law says the red bumps are gone, and his feet are cured. I wonder how long the remedy will last. I decided not to question him about the red bumps on his legs, stomach, and face. Some questions are better left unasked!
I have mixed feelings about the red bumps and his plastic bag remedy. One part of me recognizes the absurdity. At the same time, I marvel at his ingenuity. I know he feels good about being in control. My father-in-law is used to being autonomous and solving his problems. He spent most of his life working the family rice fields in a remote mountainous area of Hiroshima. Though makeshift solutions were a part of everyday life, I don’t think he considers his plastic bag solution makeshift or unusual.
This time we were lucky. With these hallucinations, I try to be mindful of caring for and protecting him from himself while allowing him as much independence and dignity as possible. For today, the red bumps aren’t hurting anyone. The extra thick layer of ointment and plastics bags aren’t either.
About the Author:
Marci Kobayashi is a web designer and intuitive with a gift for creating websites that genuinely reflect her client's passion and light. When not guiding her clients, building websites, or helping others connect spiritually, she writes about her experiences as a caregiver and longtime resident of Tokyo.