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  • Family and Society
  • Obeying One's Parents

Father with medium stage dementia


Various Rabbis

Elul 8, 5770
Dear Rabbi, My father has medium stage dimentia. He has good days and bad days. Where do I draw the line between respecting him and interfering in his life. -Do I respect him by not saying anything or should I tell him he hasn’t got a good smell? -Should my father be corrected when he makes mistakes in Kidush or Benshing? -Should I tell him he is not capable to go abroad for Rosh Hashana, but should come to me instead? And what should I tell my children about their grandfathers behaviour? Thank you, Channa
This is a delicate question and great sensitivty needs to be used in such a case. In principle, you are obligated to honor your father as you always were and need to do the utmost to keep your father happy and to keep his honor in tact. Raising issues with your father which you think may hurt his feelings and cause him distress would not be a good idea, especially if he is not in any discomfort. Therefore in regards to bad odour for example - If possible i would make sure that he is well showered each day...perhaps even a spray of aftershave once in a while might even make him happy. And as much as possible to help order his life in a way which will help prevent the need to raise potentially harmful issues. This way you can respect him, keep his honor in tact and also take care of anything which should be taken care of. If your father really wants to go abroad for Rosh Hashanah and you feel the trip can perhaps brighten up his life a little without adversely affecting his health then perhaps you could consider sending a family member to accompany him. If by sending him you are indangering his health, or there is no-one at all to accompany him then you will have to sensitively tell him that this year it is not possible but you are extending an invitation to spend Rosh Hashanah with your family. In terms of Birkat Hamazon and Kiddush - Your fathers level of functioning determines whether he is halachically obligated in mitsvot or not, and whether he can fulfill others obligations or not. The halachic definition of one who would not be obligated in mitsvot is one who you would give something and he would lose it (money for example). If such is the case he cannot say Kiddush for you, and perhaps after he says kiddush someone else can say it too. If he is able to look after something you give him then according to his ability he would be obligated in mitsvot. Unless your father is keen to learn, I do not see a reason to correct him in Birkat Hamazon. In relation to your kids. It is important to time and time again remind your children of the man your father used to be. Tell them stories which will indirectly show them how responsible, caring, loving, adventurous etc his was. Allow them to realize that he too was just like them with a childhood, schooling, dreams, goals etc. This may help them to connect to him and develop an understanding and respect for him. Your children should be reminded that this is their grandfather, and though he is now been affected by dimentia he still has feelings and desires their closeness and love. Needless to say at no point should he become a matter to laugh at in any forum whatsoever. I would recomend that your children also get involved in looking after their grandfather. As much as possible to motivate them to walk him, feed him, entertain him etc. They should feel as active participants in helping their grandfather enjoy his life and in improving his quality of life. Rabbi Baruch Kitay
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