Time with Dad: Documenting Dementia

Photo courtesy of Randy Baughn

BROWNSBURG, Ind. (WTHR) — Randy Baughn knows his dad's memory is fading. The heartbreaking reality is always present. It's there every time he visits his father, every time they talk about their lives. 77-year old Rick Baughn has dementia.

Randy knows what is coming next. It may be years. Who really knows?

What Randy does know is he wants to share with his family the incredible life of his father.

It's their own journey together through pictures. Randy can take some incredible pictures. He can do that because his dad taught him.

He learned from the best.

Rick was a staff photographer at IUPUI for many years. Randy worked for the Indianapolis Star and now has his own photography business.

On a recent visit together, sitting at a table with family, Randy told his dad, camera in hand, "I'm wanting to take a portrait of you."

As he snaps a picture with a large camera lens just across the table, Randy quietly reflects about his dad's smile, "There's that little gleam in the eye."

Randy grew up in the viewfinder of his father's camera so it's an inherited calling.

"Yeah, it's because of him. Absolutely," Randy says.

“He's dying of dementia and I know that”

As Randy and his dad look for clarity on muddy memory days, they still share smiles and laughter taking photos together with synchronized shutters that punctuate their shared passion.

But this lifetime bond is giving way to silence and confusion.

"What are you thinking dad," Randy asks. Rick's empty stare and hushed voice answers, "That's the problem."

With tears in his eyes Randy says, "I can't fix him. I can't fix him with a two minute visit, I can't fix him with a two day visit. I can't fix him. He's dying of dementia and I know that."

“It's like being a widow, but he's still alive”

Rick's wife, Linda, also feels the emptiness sometimes.

Together, the couple of 54 years, holds hands, doing everything they can to stay connected.

They live apart now so Rick can be cared for in the memory center of a Brownsburg assisted care facility.

"Sometimes still I get up in the night and subconscious still think he's in the bed there. Then I realize it's just me," Linda says. "It's like being a widow, but he's still alive."

Randy visits his dad often. That role reversal, a child parenting their parent, is real when Randy helps his dad shave and helps with his food. But it's something Randy will do with all of his heart.

They take walks, they talk photography and share their passion for music- father and son things.

But at the end of the day, the reality hits.

"Love you dad," Randy says, "I haven't asked you this for a long time. Are you getting used to living here?"

Rick simply answers, "No… I never will."

That reality brings more tears to Randy's eyes, "How much does he know? How much anxiety does he really have? Do we really know what's going on in his mind?"

It's all part of the dilemma dementia poses every day.

Randy says, "I really wanted to speak to what he's feeling and what he's going through. It's history and it's happened."

Randy tracks that history with raw, emotional posts and pictures on Facebook. He shares his day and his memories of his father with family.

There is immense respect. There is no day lived with remorse. It's his time with dad, and it's precious.

If you want to see more of Randy's photos and writings about his father, follow Randy on Facebook.