By Mel Watson, Director, Time Together Adult Day Services, Island Senior Resources
How many of us ever plan to be a family caregiver? Do we consider what we might do, if someone close to us needs help to do everyday things? It’s not something most of us think about until we are facing it, head on.
Years ago, my mom made me promise never to put her in a nursing home. At the time, it seemed crazy to even think about that. She was our “rocket of a mom,” always in control, the family manager, or as my ex-navy dad used to say, jokingly, “She’s like a ship in full sail.” Who knew that years later, she would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and slowly, over twenty years need more and more care. It has been, and continues to be, a long and winding road filled with countless unimaginable challenges.
Mom never talked about the changes that were happening to her. We did our best to organize things for her in ways that were non-confrontational. We learned not to talk to her about her memory loss, or its challenges. She’d become angry and unaccepting of our version of things. One time, I pulled in the driveway, opened the car door and immediately smelled something burning. I raced to the door, found it locked, and knocked loudly. Finally, she opened the door, and said, “Hello love” in her carefree, loving way. I ran inside to find a roast, the size of a baseball, black and charred in the oven. It had been cooking for hours, and mom didn’t know anything about it. That was the day we disconnected the oven and ordered Meals on Wheels. We didn’t talk with her about why; we just did it. We told her that she deserved to have her meals made for her, after all, she had worked all her life cooking for us.
My brother became mom’s caregiver. In the beginning, he would drop in a for few hours each day, making sure she took her meds and got her meals. Over time, it became twice a day; then later, he slept there. Finally, he decided mom needed to move in with him. That worked for a couple of years until a chest infection triggered a progression in her Alzheimer’s which culminated in a dramatic scene in the street, with police, an ambulance, and mom screaming. In her mind, she was being attacked. It was traumatic for everyone.
In consultation with specialists and social workers, we decided that a memory care unit was the best option. She hated it in the beginning. She knew it wasn’t “home.” She would yell at us that we were trying to kill her. It was heartbreaking at first, but we knew she was surrounded by compassionate staff who provided the care she needed. Eventually, she settled in and began to make friends, which is something she hadn’t done since Dad passed away. We believe it is the best option; I am OK with breaking that promise I made to my mom all those years ago. I had no idea what I was promising, and no idea what was coming. We never thought this could happen in our family.
The chance that you will become a family caregiver, a care receiver, or both, in your lifetime, is high. Maybe you are on that journey now. If you need help, Island Senior Resources is here for you. Help is closer than you think.
This article was featured in the Island Senior Resources Fall 2018 newsletter and has been republished with their permission. For more information about Island Senior Resources, please visit www.senior-resources.org.