We are approaching the two-year mark into this foray of elder care and what a twisted ride it has been. When it became clear that I was going to have to move my father and step-mother in with us, I knew in my heart that it was the right thing to do. In the process, I have grown as a person and find myself handling things I never thought I would have the tenacity to tackle.
Pride is constant interference in the care process of elderly parents. Sometimes it is a matter of they think that they can still do the things they need to do and when they realize they can’t do simple self-care tasks their frustration level rises as does their feeling of embarrassment or even shame. These feelings are often expressed as anger because they know they should know how to or be able to do the basic self-care tasks they need to. This can cause a great deal of embarrassment for both you and your parent.
To get a truthful evaluation of the needs of elderly parents sometimes you have to do a little detective work. Don’t just rely on the answers to the questions you ask your elderly parents, use your other senses to help you determine their actual needs. Does your parent have a body odor or do they use heavy amounts of fragrance? This can be clue to either an incontinence issue or maybe they are having bathing issues. The unfortunate reality is that as people age the bladder leaks. Add to that issue the fear of falling while bathing and a loss of flexibility that hampers the ability to keep the body clean.
The energy it takes to prepare food everyday can also be an issue. Nutrition can have a profound effect the overall health. Fresh fruit and veggies can be budget issue as much as the loss of ability to peel or slice something to a manageable size. Often older people don’t eat well because they have no interest in preparing a meal when they are the only one there to eat it. I asked my father why he did not prepare food for himself and he said “It seems like so much work for just me to eat, I will get something off the dollar menu when I go to see Kathleen at the nursing home. Loneliness and depression can become stumbling blocks to good nutrition.
Dental issues can also add to poor nutrition. Many elderly can’t afford to see a dentist regularly and often have teeth that are rotting and don’t do anything because of cost. Even worse is when they don’t see any value for their money spent on dental care. The thought process seems to follow “I am old and it would be waste for money besides my teeth don’t bother me”. My parents both had infected gums and rotting teeth when I took them to the dentist. Now that those issues have addressed their overall health has improved and they are having an easier time eating.
Medication can be another area of concern. Are they taking to medication when and how the Dr. prescribed them to be taken? Is the problem memory related? Do they often forget to take the meds on time? Is the problem they can’t afford their meds?
Is your parent really able to manage their finances? Do they give to charities without regard for their financial need or worse? My father gave several hundred dollars a month to a charity claiming to help Veterans. When I researched that charity they only gave 2 cents of every dollar they took in on charitable needs of Veterans. Are they buying things because they think it will help them win a contest or sweepstakes? My Dad was paying about $350 a month to Publishers Clearing House because he thought it would increase his chances of winning. Another financial aspect to investigate is their insurance and annuities. Often as parents realize they did not save enough they get taken advantage of by insurance companies promising them more financial security with their services.
The really emotionally difficult part of elder care is that you have to pry, snoop, and pay close attention to aspect of their day-to-day life for their own safety and well-being. I always felt like I was being disrespectful and treating them like children. In all this change I have learned a lot about the different kinds of dementia and the different ways that dementia can affect people. Behavior changes and difficulty expressing frustration about things that they don’t understand make caring for our elders a difficult proposition.
Every family experiences elder care in different ways. We chose to bring my parents into our home for what should have been very noble reasons; letting them live their remaining time together, ensuring that they get the best care possible, try to make sure that they do not have to spend every last penny they have getting the care they need. These are still our reasons for doing this but the reality of the situation is that THIS SUCKS more often than not. Not everyone can handle 24/7 care of people who either don’t want to be a bother or don’t think that they need help. If you can’t deal with this kind of sacrifice, PLEASE PLEASE don’t beat yourself up for it. Many times, I question making this decision. I am tired both physically and mentally. I work longer and harder than I ever have in my life for no compensation. I have had no down time in 2 years and there is no end in sight any time soon to the situation.
If you know someone who is in the care giver situation and want to help I applaud you. The best thing my friends can do is just let me vent. I don’t necessarily need help fixing the situation I just need to safely vent my frustrations so I can keep up the good fight. I realize the day will come when I will have to place my father in a memory care facility but until then we do the best we can and try to find humor in the situations as they arise. My greatest desire at this point of this process is that when this is over that I have no regrets about the decisions I am making.
To all those out there who are providing elder care either professionally or to a family member, I applaud you. Elder care is not an easy thing to do. Elder care can be life changing as well as heart breaking. If you are doing this for someone, you are a much-needed person in this world. Thank you all for helping those who can no longer care for themselves. Again, THANK YOU.