QUESTION: My dad was diagnosed with dementia several years ago. Over time he has developed a much more difficult personality than he had before. My mom is a saint the way she puts up with him, and we try to help her all we can. One of the things that hurts as I watch is seeing how lifeless he has become. Before, he was always active, telling jokes or building some new contraption. Now he just sits and stares out the window, tapping against the arm of the couch.
Occasionally, when he's not griping about something, he says something that makes me think his sense of humor isn't completely gone. It's his own brand, too, just like before. I guess I'm wondering if there's anything we can do to revive even a small portion of "the old him."
ANSWER: You're all heroes for caring for both your dad and your mom. And you're absolutely right, everyone would be better off if your dad could find some enjoyment in activities that once interested him.
You know better than anyone what those things might have been. What kind of contraptions did he make? Was he into sports? The more hobbies you can remember him enjoying, the more attempts you can make to trigger some kind of rekindled interest.
Just make sure to attempt this without too much pressure. You don't want your dad feeling like you're unhappy with him if, say, your idea to bring blocks for him to stack falls flat. There's no accounting for taste, especially in dementia. What works one day may not work another, so just experiment with where you believe his abilities may find interest and success.
Also, remember that social engagement is half the fun. That's probably what motivated your dad to tell you jokes back in the day or build things. So make sure that whatever you use to draw him back into former interests, you participate with him. It will be interesting to find out how this affects not only his day, but your mom's and yours as well.
Thanks for reading!