This is the year I’m involved in a genuine apprenticeship on Planet Elderly. I gave up a part-time community college teaching assignment in order to be on call if/when my elderly parents need my assistance. They live in the NW suburbs of the Chicago area.
Dad is 93 and in a facility. He has Alzheimer’s. Mom has been his caretaker for years…although she has never acknowledged there were issues with Dad’s cognitive functioning until this year. She is almost 89 and lives independently. She is showing some signs of short-term memory loss and confusion, especially when it comes to things she’s never had to deal with: bills, bank statements, etc. Otherwise, she’s managing pretty well most of the time, except for the guilt she feels in having her husband of 60 years in a facility.
I am an only child who lives 400 miles away from my parents. For now we are managing with me making frequent visits while still trying to hang on to my life in Missouri.
I’ve been keeping a “parental journal.” It helps me record a bit of family history, and it helps me sort through rational and irrational thoughts and emotions. I’ve shared the journal entries with a few close friends and family via email attachments.
Since our family situation is so very common, I’ve decided to post the journal entries on this blog.
The population of elderly with dementia related illnesses is suppose to increase exponentially in the near future. We better hang on to our hats. It’s gonna be quite a ride.
Parental Journal entries 01 and 02 are copied below:
Parental Journal 01 Sat. 3/21/15 4 a.m.
Arrived yesterday at 2. Mom thanked me for coming. Made her dinner and we put some bank statements in order. She wants to have Dad at home.
Observations: She is very tired; said it feels as if she’s in a fog; too much to keep up with. Little food in the fridge….5 pizzas and a few other things in the freezer. We’re making a list of things to get at the store. She feels she’s letting things go too much. She tries to see Dad every day…then brings home his dirty clothes, washes them, irons them,and returns them the next day. Old lettuce and rotting carrots in the fridge. She thought we could use the carrots, but I said I didn’t think it would be safe; she threw them out. She hates throwing food away.
Said she could not find the charger to the cell phone. This has happened before. She wondered what Dad did with it.
She brought down Dad’s three wallets and went through the contents. He had old receipts and she agreed it was okay to purge them. She wants to keep the wallets for him; said he always wanted to know, “Where’s my money?” She did not want to get rid of anything he might need. I just helped confirm that the little receipts she found were from 2013 and she agreed that they did not need to be kept.
She was concerned about the car and house insurance. She didn’t know if they were paid. She called the agent and he confirmed that they were paid in full for the year. I asked how they were paid if she didn’t pay them; she was convinced Dad paid them. With her permission I called the agent back. He looked up the record…paid by Mom in January. The agent said he had not seen dad in a couple years.
Plans for Sat: Stop at the bank to confirm account information; visit Dad; do some grocery shopping.
Parental Journal 02 – Sat. March 21, 2015
Pleasant day overall. We visited banks to get basic information; then went to visit Dad. He did not say my name. He responded minimally. He was most active at lunch and can still feed himself. We ate with him in the dining area, which was interesting because I was able to observe staff serving and helping guests. Several did not want to eat so they were coaxed with items like pudding, ice cream…something at least. Others kept falling asleep. Many were dementia patients.
Here’s a note for any lady feeling like she’d like some male company: visit a skilled nursing facility. When we arrived, a man who is assigned to usually have meals with my dad watched mom and me as we greeted dad in the commons area and tried to engage him in some sort of conversation. The man kept smiling, so finally I just said, “Hello.” An aide came over to him with apple juice. He said he didn’t want it. He wanted a beer. “No beers,” she said. “A beer and a bourbon chaser,” he replied…then he chuckled. He finally took a sip and the aide left him with instructions to finish it. He smiled at me again and asked, “Are you married?” I said, “No.” “Well, you will be by the time I leave here,” he replied. Then he wheeled himself over…very close to where I was sitting. I asked his name. Tom. He asked mine. Jenny. Said he liked the name. Then he told me he wanted his Cadillac back. He’s had 14…never a problem with any of them. He was also a musician. Told him I played the violin in my youth. “Why did you give it up????!!!!” Said I have plans to play it again…and the ukulele. He was happy to learn that. I kept coaxing him to finish the apple juice and he worked at it. When he had just a bit left, I suggested, “Down the hatch!” and he complied. Before he could propose marriage, he was whisked away to the dining room. Mom wheeled dad…but because there were three of us, we could not join Tom for lunch and he ate alone. Mom said that when dad and Tom eat together no one talks. Well…my dad doesn’t not initiate conversation. He can’t hear.
I was so struck by my mom’s attentiveness. She flutters around dad…greets him by kissing his hand and his beautiful hair. She tells him she loves him very much…then she cries a bit. I cried a bit, too. He has declined so much in three month’s time but I am not surprised. She believes she must see him every day…even for just a little bit, and I told her we would do that.
A lady at one of the banks was very helpful. Knows my mom so well that they greet each other with hugs. She’s been helping my mom with some check writing. She has a mother in her 90s who has moderate dementia. She explained different options to my mom…and definitely agreed that Mom should take the various accounts and consolidate them. Dad can no longer manage any money, so there’s no reason for him to have his own accounts. We’ll visit with the banker lady again on Tuesday.
Mom still thinks someone is paying bills. I reminded her that the banks show her signature on the checks written. She got a bit loud and angry, “So do you think I’m losing my mind?” I assured her that there’s a lot going on and anyone can get confused. “Well, do you see me doing crazy things?” I assured her that I did not see her doing crazy things…..but “I notice that you repeat things often…and forget a few things now and then.” No response.
We sat down to dinner and ate salads.
It’s now almost 7 p.m. She’s upstairs mending dad’s pants. I’m doing a bit of journal time.
How wonderful it must be to still feel love for someone after 62 years together. That is unimaginable to me. It is a tribute to them both. I remember the good times…and the occasional loud arguments…but isn’t it wonderful to witness two who have weathered the ups and downs for so long and still feel tenderness toward each other?