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    Posted March 16, 2011 by
    Atlanta, Georgia
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    What I Know: Alzheimer's disease

    The day the laughter died


    Alzheimer's disease is a cruel thief, stealing many human traits from its victims. First it skillfully mines the memory, in a creeping but determined fashion. Then it often rips affection from the victim's heart, leaving them confused and frustrated at those who care about them the most.


    There's another marker of humanity that Alzheimer's snatches. I witnessed this the last time I saw my dad. As I saw him ambling down the hallway of the nursing home, eyes eerily vacant, my first thought was that he looked like a zombie. Over the next several hours, he spoke a little bit, ate some of the treats I brought, sipped some coffee, and held my hand. But he took no pleasure in any of the acts. My dad, the dark-haired Irishman who liked to spin a good yarn, was now just a sedated shell of his former self, with only a flash of mild resentment and confusion registering in his emerald eyes.


    His sense of humor had vanished.


    I had seen him just a few months before, and that visit was almost harder to endure. Dad, a boxing fan who had once started writing a novel about the sport, now saw my poor mother as an opponent in an imaginary ring. He was "shadow boxing" and landed his bony fist into my mom's fragile chin, leaving an ugly bruise on her skin and an even more hideous scar on her psyche.


    Other than this unfortunate incident, what I remember most about that visit was Dad smiling and joking as often as he could. He kept referring to his love of “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” At numerous inappropriate times during my visit, he would shout out the famous Ed McMahon phrase, "Here's Johnny!"


    When I asked him how he was feeling, he repeatedly said how keeping a sense of humor was important. Dad was desperately trying to hang on to being his own person. Amidst the confusion, the frustration, the frightening hallucinations and the wandering, he was battling Alzheimer’s for his identity.


    The disease won the fight.


    Dad is no longer angry and lashing out, and one could even assume he's content. He spends his days watching classic movies, eating, sleeping and wandering up and down the hallway of the clean and friendly nursing home. He no longer has to worry about finances or be pained by wars and world catastrophes. But how long will he have to live with this imposter that has taken over his soul? That is the question that plagues my nights and haunts my waking life.

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