In America it is much more likely that a nursing home or long-term care facility will be the end destination. There are probably many reasons why this is our standard way of dealing with aging parents. This is not the blog to explore why, though I'd welcome your thoughts in the comments section. . But, even that scenario certainly doesn't promise a stress-free period.
One of the comments left on the original post is worth reprinting here. His explanation is well-written, emotionally honest, and representative of what many of us have, are, or will face.
My Dad died at the age of 81, but his decline started well before that. During his lifetime, he often went through lengthy bouts of depression, and in his later years, the depression mingled with confusion, memory loss, irritability, and no doubt endless boredom, making his last years a nightmare, not only for him, but for those of us who tried our level best to be patient and understanding. He took boatloads of pills, and I often wonder how much the medication contributed to his moodiness and overall state of mind.
My Mom had no life at all during those years, such was her sense of commitment to taking care of him. In his final years, he could never be left on his own for fear of falling or getting into some other sort of predicament. With his confusion, he would often mistake her for someone else, and sometimes he would even convince himself that there were 2 versions of her, one good and one evil. He would often hallucinate and sometimes vehemently accuse her of cheating on him, even though she tended to him on an almost 24/7 basis and had no time to take care of herself, let alone find a boyfriend.
In later years Mom did all the driving. This tiny woman would load a man who could hardly walk under his own steam into her car and trot him around to his doctors’ appointments. I have no idea how she managed this without help.
If Mom was to have any time to herself in those years, it would require that I be available to “babysit” Dad while she went out. I hated every minute of it. I loved my Dad, but we seldom saw eye to eye on anything (I suppose the way many fathers and sons do). Conversation was difficult for any number of reasons, not the least of which was because he was so confused about what was going on around him, sometimes repeatedly asking me if I was going to take him home soon, when he was sitting in his favourite chair in the only home he’d known for 40 years. How can a man look out his front window at the same neighbour’s house that he’s seen every morning for 40 years and want to know if we’re going home soon?
My Dad would fall constantly. Even with his walker, I would have to walk slightly behind him with my hand gripping his belt to try and steady him so he wouldn’t hit the deck. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to wipe your father’s blood off of the kitchen wall because he split his head open on a corner after taking a spill. Or how about putting his head through the side of the bedroom dresser after falling backwards? And try lifting an elderly man off the floor by yourself when he’s too feeble to help in the process. I use to grab a blanket and wrap it around behind him to try and get some leverage to pull him back up on his feet, but sometimes I just had to wait it out until someone else came along to grab one arm. There is so little dignity in old age that I often wonder why we all seem to want to live forever.
I don’t judge my Dad based on those years. At his best, he was a decent, hardworking man, always willing to help a neighbour or drive the local kids to hockey practice when other fathers were nowhere in sight. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that the most recent memory we’re likely to be left with of an aging parent is usually a snapshot of them when they’re at their fragile worst, both physically and mentally, and possibly a glimpse into our own future.
This comment is absolutely first-rate in bringing to life the pain and struggles inherent in this situation. It is remarkably consistent with everything I have read on the subject, and my own limited experience to this point. The writer identifies several key areas of concern that are worth highlighting.
How much does increasingly high doses of medication help or hurt? How many of the problems during this stage of life are actually enhanced because the parent is taking medicines that counteract each other, or have serious side effects? With strict privacy laws in place, how do you get straight answers?
The effect on the spouse or partner is significant. Control is lost over most of that person's own life. Having to be on call means being unable to do anything that delays immediate response to a need. The potential for abusive behavior is real, as is the heartache of confusion. It is impossible to imagine the pain of having your spouse of many decades not even remember who you are. Performance of unpleasant tasks of personal hygiene can't be handed off to someone else. Personal dignity is lost.
When to take away the car keys is a major area of contention. Driving an automobile is a significant statement of personal freedom. When that is taken away from someone for this own good, the emotional outbursts can be tremendous. The original post had a link to a very well written article on this subject. If you didn't see it the first time, click here
The final memories of a parent or loved one may not be the ones we want to hold onto. But, the struggles and pain make it difficult to remember all the good times that came before. Allowing some time to pass and then recalling pleasant memories of the past with family photos or videos would seem a possible way to soften the painful thoughts of the last few days. But, the hurt of those last months or days never goes away.
I am deeply indebted to the unnamed person who left the comment I have used as the focal point for this post. He has voiced some of the fears and concerns many of us must face. Here are some excellent links to articles from the web site Maturity Matters. I found them to be well-written and practical in their advice. If you are facing the dilemma of caring for aging parents, maybe you will find these links a good place to start.
Links to helpful articles
- Taking charge without taking over
- Discussing care options with your parents before they need it
- Communicating with aging parents
- Ten ways to work with stubborn parents
- The importance of creating a legacy
- Elder care from a distance
- What have you done with my Mother?
In this area, we can learn from each other. If you have suggestions, insight, or a personal experience to share, I would be most grateful if you left a comment. This is an area where your experiences and suggestions will be very helpful to others.
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