LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Veterans home provides solace through FTD

1987 of U.S. Army Chain of Command Photo of Lieutenant Colonel Don Jagger, Commander, 2/30 Mechanized Infantry Battalion (the “Wild Boars”), 3d Infantry Division, Schweinfurt Germany,

On Sept 30, my husband Donovan F. Jagger, will be 71 years old. On Oct 2, we will celebrate our 42nd anniversary.

These special days no longer have meaning for Don. One day is as the other.

He is helped from his bed in his semi-private room at the Delaware Veterans home. He is transported to a wheelchair. He can no longer stand on his own. He is cleaned and dressed. He rarely makes sounds like speech. He must be fed by someone else if he is to get enough nourishment.

He can lift food from the plate to his mouth, but he might make the motion with no food, or the food may fall before reaching his mouth. He can still suck through a straw and chew and swallow.

He knows me, knows Dolly our dog, but does not always acknowledge our presence when we visit. He seems as content to trace the whorl in the wooden table with his finger as he is to glance in our direction.

When I try to rise to leave, however, it gets his attention and his eyes implore me to stay. Or maybe I am reading something in his eyes that no longer exists. It’s hard to know. Easy to feel guilty about leaving.

No means no: If he does not want to eat something or do something or be moved, he makes it known. He’s in there, somewhere, with thoughts and feelings even if most of them can no longer be expressed except by the turn of his head or the grip of both hands on the table edge if he does not want to be moved.

He is slowly being taken off some of the drugs used to control his behavior when he arrived Nov 17, 2015. The anger is gone. He seems content and even happy.

Veronica is his favorite nurse. All the staff at the Delaware Veterans Home are wonderful, from the IT specialist, to the billing specialist, to the welcome desk and guards to the aides and nurses. Veronica is special because she danced with him when he first arrived.

Now she helps him bat at a balloon. She is always cheerful and upbeat. She is attuned to him — and to me, as I still tear up and try to hide it. She notices and distracts from my weakness, gives me a chance to recover and find my smile for Don.

There is a wonderful new room in the Gold Wing. It is full of things to touch, things to see, things to hear. Don especially loves this strange box with strands of plastic containing LED lights that change color spilling down from it. When I put those strands on his lap, he grips hard. There is no getting those colorful strains from him until he falls deeply asleep.

As readers of this paper know, I write of my husband’s illness and its impact on me annually during World Wide FTD Awareness Week, which happens to coincide with Don’s birthday. The first week of October, our anniversary week, is the Association of Frontotemporal Degeneration’s money and awareness raising week called Food for Thought.

I still celebrate those weeks, but in a different way. This year I hosted an online fundraiser which netted the AFTD more than $1,500 in two days. Don and I are blessed with generous friends. That money goes towards research and caregiver support. Learn more at www.theaftd.org.

Please take some time to discuss Frontotemporal Degeneration over a meal in the next few weeks. Learn more about it because — while FTD cannot yet be cured — with early detection, it can be managed and its progression slowed.

Gene Thornton

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