From the day I met him, I've called Charlie the gadget guru.

Before the US Air Force called him to active duty for the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1961, he was an industrial arts teacher. He could fix anything, operate any kind of machinery or tool, and had a habit of acquiring every new gadget that was invented for the handyman. Whether it was woodworking, plumbing, electrical work or auto mechanics, Charlie could do it.

How things have changed since dementia turned his brain to Swiss cheese. Every night, before I retire, I explain to him how to turn off the television; still he doesn't always get it right.

Yesterday morning the house was freezing cold when I got up. My first thought was that the furnace had quit. Not so. When I checked the thermostat I saw that Charlie had turned it down ten degrees lower than I had set it when I went to bed. I repeatedly tell him that he doesn't need to touch it but he forgets my instructions as soon as I leave the room.

He has a talking watch to help him keep track of the day and month as well as the time. But he has a bad habit of constantly tinkering with the little buttons. So now it is out of kilter and, of course, he has lost the instructions so no one can get it back in sync. I took it to a jewelry store to see if they could fix it, but they were lost without the instructions.o I ordered him a new one for Christmas from a popular gadget catalog.

Since the neighborhood bear ran off with our suet feeder, I bought a new one and gave it to Charlie to insert the suet and hang it up so the birds can enjoy a Christmas feast. True to form, he couldn't figure out how to open the cage and insert the new suet pack. So I loaded it myself.Now I just have to find another six-footer to hang it up for me, since Charlie's legs won't cooperate while he handles that duty.

I don't think he has dialed a phone in four years. All those buttons are totally confusing to him. I have to dial up his party and hand the phone to him. And when he's done, I have to turn off the phone.

As for the cell phone, it might as well be the original Univac computer as far as he is concerned.First of all, his very large hands can't manage those tiny buttons; and all the options are completely foreign.

This time of year the commercials are loaded with gadgets of all types. Charlie watches them longingly and, at times, suggests that he should order one of them; but he knows he would never be able to operate it. He might be able to figure out the Clapper, but that would be the extent of his mechanical ability.

It's sad. He realizes his limitations and it is very frustrating for him.

The man I had come to depend on is gone and I have to look elsewhere for someone to do minor projects around the house. Even more frustrating, is having to undo the things he has unwittingly messed up.

Dementia is a scourge.