Almost six and a half years ago I wrote a post about how we exhibit love when we care for our parents as they age. Just last week I re-read that post and felt a twinge: I still had both of my parents when it was written. I wanted to share this with you again since this is something virtually all of us must deal with at some point. I haven't changed the original text which was written while both were still alive.
For many of us, One of the toughest things we face is dealing with our parents as they age. Watching someone you love decline is not pleasant. My mom and dad are struggling so I am learning as I go. Since they live in town that makes my wife and me the primary caregivers, though my brothers do what they can by long distance.
Almost 4 years ago, my parents had the foresight to move into a retirement community. It offers independent and assisted living options as well as a nursing care center. They wanted to avoid the situation where one or both became unable to care for themselves or too sick to be accepted into such a facility. We had discussed other options: caring for them in their own home for as long as possible, or even moving in with us.
But, in the end mom and dad insisted that the benefit of the three level system was best. As it turned out their timing was excellent. Within 18 months my mom’s health began to take a dramatic turn for the worse. Dad is a trouper but his failing memory and hearing loss often leaves him somewhat befuddled.
Anyone with aging parents knows about all the daily decisions that I faced. Can anything be done to make their home safer to help prevent falls, burns, or other accidents? Do the bathrooms have grip bars? Are the throw rugs slippery? What in-home services does the facility offer? Asking these questions directly to my parents usually didn’t generate helpful responses. For quite awhile their contention was that they could handle everything even when that was not so. Finally, I had to just go ahead and take the necessary steps.
Older folks often suffer from poor nutrition. Meals are skipped or poorly planned. If the person’s eyesight is failing or gone, even the heating of meals becomes a big challenge. Luckily, the facility where my folks live has a few dining options so two of the three daily meals are taken care of. Breakfast at home or a light lunch doesn’t create an insurmountable obstacle, at least for now.
Next on my list were financial issues. Again, some foresight proved very helpful. Various health and legal directives were up to date. What about paying bills and taking care of taxes? I assume that this can be an area of conflict, particularly if the relationship between parent and grown child isn’t the best. The fear of being taken advantage of is very real for seniors.
Careful explanations of the consequences of missing credit card payments, utility bills, or tax problems are required. My dad was more than willing to turn almost all of that over to me. I now can interact directly with their investment counselor and make decisions. After being added to the checking account I can pay bills. My dad still wants to receive copies of the bills and statements so going paperless hasn’t happened yet.
One the biggies I have yet to deal with is the taking away of the car keys. From discussions with friends and what I read in various blogs, I know this will not be fun. My mom has been unable to drive for a few years due to increasing loss of vision. So dad is the one who takes her (and himself) to all the doctor’s appointments, food shopping, and all the errands of daily living. I check his car every time I visit for new dents or scratches. So far so good.
When he begins to forget enough to become a danger, or has an accident, I will have to step in. Their community has constant shuttle and on-property transportation but it will be a major withdrawal of independence when the car keys disappear.
Each parent takes multiple pills every day, so the management of that can’t be left to chance. I have met with their family doctor and I do have the legal authority to intercede if needed. But, there is no one to guarantee that the right pills are taken, at the right time, and in the correct dosage. I am watching for signs of trouble and will have to find a solution when that step becomes crucial.
Memory loss comes with age. Already I sometimes have those frustrating “senior moments.” Both parents were having issues in this area that are becoming worse. In my mom’s case, she broke her leg and ankle about 17 months ago. That put her in a hospital for almost two weeks and then into the nursing center. She doesn’t remember breaking her leg. I assume some of that is the brain blocking out bad experiences. But, it is still amazing to me that whole episode is not real to her at all.
Dad has almost no short-term memory either. Luckily, he is a list-maker. His daily to-do list is written down in great detail in a notebook he carries with him always. Within the last year I have taught him how to feel comfortable with using a cell phone. If he gets lost, or has an auto breakdown, I’m hopeful he will call me for help.
The broken leg really accelerated mom’s decline. She is confined to the health center, except for regular trips to the hospital for other issues. While she is allowed to “visit” their apartment, she will not be allowed to return there to live. That awareness, along with her almost total blindness have left her with little to fill her day and mind, so the slippage continues. Dad spends most of each day sitting in her room, reading the paper, or discussing doctor appointments, but that is causing his world to close in too.
I’m afraid this is not a post that will end of a burst of optimism. Dealing with aging parents is mostly about facing reality. On several levels my folks are blessed. They have the financial resources to be in the facility they are. They have family in town who visits at least once a week, sometimes more.
After 63 years of marriage they remain deeply in love and committed to being there through good and bad. Mom and dad were there for me. It is my time to be there for them.
I will feel eternally grateful that I was able to help mom and dad during the last few years of their lives. It wasn't easy but it was important.