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Caring For An Elderly Parent at Home
I have been the filling in a sandwich. Really.
You see, a few years ago we moved my mom in to our home for what was to be the last six months of her life. I was sandwiched in between raising my children, and caring for my mom, and I may have been the peanut butter holding the whole thing together but it was one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things I have done in my life. I would not trade those moments for all of the treasure of Solomon. I would not choose to relive them for a million dollars.
Many of us find ourselves with aging parents and the dilemma of how to juggle their needs with the needs of our spouses and children. It is never an easy choice but it can work if you have a good support system in place and you are able provide for the needs of your parent. In fact, not only can it work, but it may be the best educational experience you can give to your child as well.
My mother was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia when she was in her 80s. During a near death experience the doctors put in a defibrillator to shock her heart back into rhythm when it began to beat too fast. Because it was an emergency situation they did it without consulting me.
Personally, I believe that if someone has had a good healthy life into their 80s, installing a device like a defibrillator is really not a great idea. However, what was done was done. They were not completely able to control her heartbeat and so she had a very fast heart rate which made her nervous and jumpy. She went from caring for herself, her house, vegetable garden,dog, and horse to being unable to walk much farther than the chair, or the bathroom, from her bed. Her doctor felt that a nursing home was the only option, however he agreed that she would probably be happier with me.
We frantically painted and decorated a downstairs bedroom for her. Everyone looked forward to her moving in because we are a very close knit family. The day came when we brought her home and settled her into her new room. Although she appreciated everything we had done she was unhappy. She was lonely, she was depressed because she could not do the things she used to and, not being used to being around her beloved grandkids 24/7, the kids noise made her nervous. Actually everything made her jumpy and nervous because of the medications she was on.
The medications made her increasingly angry, paranoid, and depressed. More and more I had to take on the role of parent, more and more she reverted into child. Rather than hearing words of love and acceptance from my mom I dealt with angry outbursts and two year old tantrums. My husband and I drove her to appointments, to the beauty parlor, everywhere. We had to watch her in the kitchen with knives, with appliances, with everything.
But something wonderful happened. We learned to be patient. To love in the face of anger, and we saw our children develop compassion, gentleness, and a respect for old people. They read her stories, they spent time talking to her,holding her hand, laughing and joking with her. They learned that death and dying is a natural part of life and living, and that sometimes we lose ourselves in the process. So they loved this new gramma not for who she was but for how she used to be.
They, and we are changed. We will never be the same. And I am glad.
Some Things That Will Help
There are things that can make it easier. Understanding that this is a tough time and accepting that there will be stress is a big step in making whole thing easier.
1. Have a network of support : Mine was my husband, my family, and my church. You have to have someone you can talk to. My best friend came and stayed with mom every couple of Sundays so I could go to church. My husband held me while I cried and diverted some of my mom's anger from me to himself when it got bad. You need support.
2. Have a GOOD geriatric doctor: I loved my mom's doctor. He specialized in geriatrics and so he was able to explain many things to me about why she was doing the things she was doing. He also made housecalls! You are going to need have a doctor you can communicate with and that has an understanding and compassion for you as well as your parent.
3. Maintain a sense of humor: Stuff happens. Try to laugh it off. There was a period of several days where my mom would take the pan out of the bedside toilet, and then forget that she had and use it. Quite a mess to clean up. Embarrassing to her, and more work for me. But laughter and a cheerful attitude made all the difference for both of us.
4.Realize that it isn't forever: Really. It will be over, your parent will be gone and you will wish that you could spend an hour with them just once more. Learn to enjoy the moments.
5.Be flexible: Being easy going will help you to maintain your sanity.
6.Let your parent help: They are used to being independent. Give them laundry to fold, a table to dust or something that they can do.
7.Listen: Now is the time to get the family recipe for chocolate cake or the story about Uncle Fred's run in with the cow. My mom had a poem she used to recite and I tried and tried to memorize it...I couldn't and it is gone now.
8. Get help: Your doctor can guide you to various services that are available to help, from visiting nurses, to home health care workers that can come in and help with showers and such.
9. Get Away: Do what you need to do to make sure you have a day or an afternoon away.
10. Pray, meditate, or get quiet time: You need to feed your spirit.