Parental Journal 06 from Planet Elderly: Preparing to Transition Dad to Long-term Care

Parental Journal 06 March 30 – April 1, 2015

Mon. March 30, 2015 – late afternoon

Once we arrived at The Village today, Mom was talking again about wanting to take Dad home. She cried a lot, went to visit with someone in physical therapy, and came back looking devastated. “They said he can’t go home if he can’t walk. That’s so unfair. I can’t let him go.” How true. She has been grieving for quite a while and was able to state an underlying reason for her suffering: unable to let him go. After 62 years together, that is quite understandable. By the time we had dinner, she chatted matter-of-factly about how it really takes two people to take care of him.

There was a small group in the TV area when the exercise lady showed up with her CD player. She asked John the Quiet if he wanted to exercise and he said, “Sure.” So she popped in her CD of old standards and began the routine. I asked if I could join in and she said, “Yes.” I mean, how hard could a little chair exercise be? Loved the music…chatted it up with the exercise lady and the other three who tried to move a bit…and I actually felt challenged. We were the life of the TV area and the staff at the nurse’s station smiled as I did my thing, tried to engage John the Quiet, and Mom even tried to move Dad’s arms a bit. Dad was in sleep mode. John the Quiet didn’t move even a pinky finger, but I had fun. Once it warms up a bit outside I can start walking.

Stopped at WalMart on the way home to pick up some things I need in order to make a wonderful chicken noodle casserole which we will split with neighbors Kevin and Sue who have been so very helpful to Mom and Dad over the years. I needed bread crumbs. Mom wanted me to get the regular kind; I wanted to get Panko. “I never had that kind before,” she said with suspicion. “It’ll taste fine. It has a bit of extra crunch. You’ll like it,” I said. The next thing to find was Gouda cheese. “Never heard of it,” she said. On the way home she said something about “eating all these new things” … as if it might not be a good idea but she’s going along with it to be a good sport.

Although we’re adjusting quite well to sharing space, we have our differences. She was quite honest in telling me that I go too fast. She’s right. My mind and body work faster and her confusion slows her down. I apologized. Oatmeal is another issue. When she made it for me my first morning here I thought it was kind of gummy…probably because she was using Aldi’s oatmeal. I’m an oatmeal snob: Quaker…the kind that takes 5 minutes to cook. She was cooking Aldi’s 1 minute oatmeal for five minutes…at least. So I gently suggested cooking it for one minute. She did not like the suggestion. I think she tried 2 or 3 and it was better than 5. Fortunately, she has a container of Quaker Oats on hand to use next. It’s the 1 minute variety, but what the hell. I add walnuts and blueberries, so it’s all good.

To do:

Call doctor’s office to request a letter verifying that Dad can no longer manage his financial affairs.

Ask doctor’s office when Mom last had an annual exam. We’ve identified a female internist to be her new primary care physician. When possible, schedule an appointment for her.

Fill out application materials in preparation for Dad to transition from respite care to long-term care. They only allow 3 weeks of respite care.

Eye exam for Mom on April 7. She’s having difficulties seeing up close.

Things we’ve been talking about:

*The difficulty of watching someone fade away.
*The complexities of the brain and how it controls so much.
*How nice to see almost a smile now and then on Dad’s face and a twinkle in his eye.
*What it’s like to live in Columbia, Missouri.
*Dad’s good appetite and weight gain.
*My friends and family in Columbia.
*Her anger and frustration at learning about their finances so late in life. Dad handled it all and she never had to write a check until she was 87. She had never even seen their bank statements. It’s all new to her.

What we are not talking:

*Her own decline in cognitive functioning

*My refusal to ride in her car as a passenger. I’m practicing the wording for the car issue. So far she’s happy to have me drive her everywhere, but the other day she said something about needing to drive. She has not driven since getting lost March 19 on her way home from visiting Dad. My refusal will hurt her feelings, and she’ll probably get livid, but I’ll explain it as calmly as possible.

Wed. April 1, 2015 3 a.m.

I’m into a segmented sleep pattern because I go to bed so early – 9 or 9:30. Then I’m awake around 2 or 3 a.m. This will change as I shift into the warmer season when it is lighter in the evening. Also, I just have “busy mind” thinking about all the things I need to help Mom organize.

Last night I helped Mom fill out the application for long-term care. It required a lot of details that she might have had difficulty locating, but we’ve been organizing things and I’ve established a notebook of important information. So we worked together as a team and she was quite relaxed. Dad will be assigned to a new room because they will be receiving several folks needing rehab on the second floor…people who need to be quarantined. The new room will be on the first floor.

I’m feeling the lack of pets. The Village has some bird cages here and there with resident birds, so I visit them and chat to get a response. One little bird is kinda funny. He sits on a perch sometimes, and just when I want to visit he can hardly keep his eyes open. He resembles some of the residents.

The Car Talk

Yesterday morning Mom said she needed to use her car so she can practice driving again…so when we go visit Dad, she’ll drive. Here it comes, I thought, and I slowly began to approach the topic that I do not want to be a passenger when she is driving. Her initial response was, “Fine. I’ll visit Dad myself and you can stay here. I feel like everyone wants to take everything away from me.” I didn’t shoot back with a response. I paused and then gently acknowledged that this is a difficult transition time…what with her primary caretaker days ending because Dad needs more care than she can provide.

I explained that I’m uncomfortable with the confusion she shows when she is driving and her sudden, last minute maneuvers with the car. I was also concerned with her getting lost while driving. “Well, I’m uncomfortable with the way you drive sometimes,” she said. I nodded and told her I have other people I’m uncomfortable with, too. “Well, if I want to go on an errand by myself, I’ll drive. But when we see Dad, we’ll use my car and you drive.” By the time we ended the conversation, she seemed fine and accepting. When we went to visit Dad, I suggested she pull the car out of the garage for practice, and she did. When we returned, I suggested she put the car into the garage, a rather narrow one car set up, and she tried.   She hates putting the car in and out of the garage.  She’s had to replace a side mirror twice.  She was out there for about ten minutes. I sat inside sipping a bit of wine, waiting. When she came in she said she decided to leave it outside because we’ll be using it in the morning. Later, she took a pair of Dad’s slacks over to the cleaners. She drove just fine. Good for her. I have a feeling that she will probably not pass her annual driving test in August, but you never know.
*****
Made a chicken noodle casserole for dinner. It was yummy. We shared some with Kevin and Sue next door. They have shared some dinner items with Mom on occasion, just to make sure she was eating.

Have Mom set up with an appointment with the doctor she doesn’t like much. She decided it would be fine to have an annual check-up with him instead of getting a new doctor. Her appointment is scheduled for April 21. When we called, we also requested a letter from the doctor stating that Dad can no longer manage his affairs. She initiated the call, but she had a hard time explaining what she wanted, so she handed the phone over to me.

I’ve been here less than two weeks, and things are going far, far better than I expected. People keep asking Mom how long I’ll be here and she tells them “for a little while.” We talked about that a bit. I told her that before going back to Missouri, I want to know that she is comfortable driving to see Dad and doing errands, that we have things organized at one bank instead of three, and that she is generally less stressed and more confident in managing things by herself. I explained that my original plan for the summer was to go back and forth and that maybe in a month or so, I’ll go down to Missouri for a couple weeks and then come back up to visit her for a while, etc. She thought that was a good plan. She knows I have family and friends in Missouri and feels badly that I’m not able to live my regular life. I just assure her that this is the right time to be up here to help out…that friends and family in Missouri understand.

Wed. April 1, 2015 – afternoon

Dad has been moved to room 127. We turned in the application papers for long-term care.
Mom asked a lot of questions today…about things we have done or things I have explained several times before. Her short-term memory is impaired.

Today it took her over 50 minutes to subtract two debits from her checking account…using pen/paper as well as a new, bright pink, easy-to-read calculator with large buttons and display I purchased for her.  When she finished, I asked her if she knew how long she’d been working on that. “About an hour.” Yup…and she did only one subtraction from the bank book balance record book. She said she thought she was hitting the keys too hard, and that’s probably true. Then I told her she had another payment to deduct. “You do it,” she said. And I did. Afterwards we kicked back and each had a little bit of Riesling wine. She told stories of working at the soda fountain at Walgreens on Michigan Ave. during the war and how she and friends would go swimming in Lake Michigan after work…around midnight. “Wasn’t the beach closed at that time of night?” I asked. “We knew the cops,” she said.

We’re supposed to try and hunt for income tax papers. They received a refund from the state, so she thinks she had them done for free at the library, but doesn’t know where she put the papers. The hunt may have to wait until tomorrow. Each morning she wakes up worried about “doing the taxes,” so it’s important to find evidence that they have been done.

Late this afternoon we had fun shredding a bunch of old papers/statements. We gave the shredder a good workout. It was stuff Dad, the former accountant, kept and kept and kept. I’m pleased that she’s agreeable to shredding stuff she’ll never need. It’s like shedding old skin. Feels good.

About jjmummert

Just another voice in the wilderness from someone who's lived on this planet for over 60 years and faces permanent residency on Planet Elderly. Update: As of March 2, 2017, I turned 70. I'm now an official resident of Planet Elderly. Dad passed away September 22, 2016. I view the Parental Journal entries as part therapy, part family history, sort of a case study of what our family experiences with one parent in a memory care unit, another living independently with short-term memory loss, and me, the only child daughter who lives 400 miles away. It's quite an adventure. Recommended readings for others who have loved ones who live with some form of dementia: The 36-Hour Day, The Myth of Alzheimer's - What You Aren't Being Told About Today's Most Dreaded Diagnosis, Alzheimer's Early Stages.
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