Dr. Paul’s Lessons Learned
Every November, Mom would prepare the annual Christmas goodies for family and friends. It was as traditional as Christmas itself. Included on the menu were chocolate turtles and sand tarts covered in pecans, imported from the backyards of Texas. Mom had truly mastered her family’s recipes. She would spend hours melting the chocolate, flattening the dough, and intricately placing each pecan artistically onto the paper thin diamond-shaped cookie. I had just arrived home for a visit and heard a commotion in the dining room. Apparently, Mom was not ironing out the sand tart dough in quite the way Dad would have wanted.
Dad had decided that he would take over the dough rolling and “allow” Mom to butter the surface of the cookie and place the pecans. In the past this was a job reserved for Eddie, the 3 year old toddler. Mom explained, in no uncertain terms, that she had flattened a lot of dough in her life and that she didn’t need his help. She insisted that he leave her dining room immediately. Dad refused and began to roll out the dough. The last thing I remember was what must have been about ten pounds of nuts that went flying past me and into the living room. They were followed closely by my father who decided that he would watch TV while the smoke settled. Dad always did have good instincts.
Historically, Mom had commandeered the household. Dad worked full time and provided financially for the family, but Mom kept the books, cooked the meals, and kept our house in order. In the months leading up to the discovery, Tami and I both knew in our hearts of hearts that it would not be long before Mom would be unable to handle those day to day tasks. What would happen to Dad? How would he cope? How much longer could he remain mentally intact under the continuous barrage of repetitive questioning, day in and day out, that Mom had begun at least a year ago? Tami’s visits had shortened as a result and my phone calls were limited to 5 minutes – about as long as I could tolerate the same thing being asked over and over and over. Could Dad take over the daily duties that Mom had mastered over the years, like cooking?
If one parent has assumed the role of sole caregiver for the other, expect a progressive deterioration in both parents. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that caregiving is an easy transition for any of us, especially for the elderly.
Well, subconsciously Dad had begun his takeover of the household long before Mom’s dementia had set in. From what I understand this is pretty typical when the bread-winner retires. Either they have a hobby or they take over the house – Dad wasn’t a hobby-kind of guy. He had begun “helping” around the house for a couple of years now. Let me clarify: Dad had begun forcing Mom to accept his interference ever since his retirement in the early 80’s.
Needless to say, Mom had fought this transition, kicking and screaming. Mom wanted Dad in the house, but not in her way. The coup began when Dad began washing the clothes. In Dad’s defense, he would explain that he worried about Mom going up and down the stairs with a bag of laundry–something she had been doing without difficulty for over 45 years.
By offering support early in the transition, you may potentially improve or slow the progression of the dementia or disability of the affected parent while preserving the wherewithal of the other. This support could be in the form of sitters, maids, and/or financial planners. Focus your efforts on their needs.
Now you would think than any smart human being would welcome the help, but in Mom’s eyes, this was just another attempt by Dad to take away her identity. Dad was quite competitive and knew that he would find a more efficient, less costly way of doing the laundry. He had always been compulsive about details at work, but had somehow managed to mind his own business when it came to household duties. Once he had retired, all bets were off. After all, he had a lot to teach Mom about cleaning. It wasn’t long after that when the arguments began. The “sand tart” fight is probably the most famous.
Looking back over those years, I realize now that some of what I thought was Dad’s encroaching onto Mom’s space was probably necessary. Along the same line, we both suspected that most of Mom’s resistance had more to do with her difficulty accepting the early signs of dementia and less to do with her anger toward Dad’s efforts to help. Regardless, Dad had reached his limit in January, 2000.
Preparing frozen meals is easy and may be life-saving for your parents. Poor appetite and resulting weight loss is common in the elderly, partly due to their decreased ability to taste, decreased metabolic demand, and the effort that is required to prepare a meal for two.
When Tami made it to Cumberland, she found an unkempt house, an empty refrigerator, and a freezer full of frozen meals. Actually, Mom hadn’t cooked in 2 years. She wasn’t capable of following a simple recipe, even her own (another early sign of dementia). Tami had been preparing their meals, freezing about fifty of them, and then bringing them to Cumberland during her weekend visits. On this visit Tami found Mom about 30 lbs underweight and wondering the house. Dad had a blank stare and was talking gibberish.
We suspect that neither of them had eaten in days, maybe weeks. Tami shuffled them into her car, locked up the house, and began the long trek back to Emmitsburg. En route Tami became concerned that Mom had possibly suffered a stroke. She stopped off at a local hospital where Mom was then admitted for a long battery of tests, all of which came back negative. After several days in the hospital, Mom was discharged. It was at that time that I scheduled their very costly flight to Houston. In some situations airlines will offer discounted fares in cases of hardship.
The cheapest discounted fare I could find was $1000 per person, one way. After several days in the hospital, Mom was discharged. It was at that time that I scheduled their very costly flight to Houston. In some situations airlines will offer discounted fares in cases of hardship. The cheapest discounted fare I could find was $1000 per person, one way. Unfortunately, as I have discovered repeatedly over the last several years, you take what you can get, which often isn’t much.
Based on what Tami had described, we both suspected that Mom had become demented and stopped preparing meals. Dad, who historically couldn’t even make a bowl of cereal without Mom’s assistance, stopped eating. Dad had several “well-controlled” medical conditions, including Parkinson’s, which required daily medications.
Medication error is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. The sad truth is that it is always preventable. Today’s technology combined with the industry’s increasing competition for the older person’s dollar has produced some very cheap methods of providing accurate medication delivery.
These devices will never replace the careful oversight of attentive kids or paid caregivers, but they have become invaluable in many nursing homes, assisted living environments, senior centers, and elderly households. In the past, Tami and I had relied on him to order and dispense his own medications. By the appearance of the medications containers, it had been several weeks since his daily medications were dispensed correctly. This event appeared to be the result of a combination of malnutrition, inherent dementia, and medication error.
Luckily for us, we were able to intervene in time and provide them many cherished years in a safe and loving environment, where they were protected and well cared for. This is why family should not have to care for elderly parents alone.
For most of us, as well as our parents, it is difficult to know exactly when they truly need assistance for their own safety and well-being. You took the first step in the right direction by asking the question – is it time to get help? Consider hiring professional support – trustworthy and well-trained caregivers assure your peace of mind and your parents’ quality of life – affording you the ability to enjoy your place in one another’s lives as their son or daughter.
For more information about Patient Caregivers or to learn how Patient Caregivers can help you and your loved one, please contact us at (713) 227-3448. Patient Caregivers provides 24/7 Elderly Care in Houston TX. We help match clients with Caregivers in Houston TX who can meet their specific needs. Caring for loved ones in old age can be challenging to navigate, and many clients are unsure how to find the right caregiver.
We serve clients within the Houston metro area, providing home visits and caregiving consultation. Contact us today at (713) 227-3448, or pick a date and time that best suits your schedule and our team will reach out to help you begin the process.