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Alzheimer's Disease - Preparing for Assisted Living

Updated on June 28, 2014
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She lost her father to Alzheimer's disease in 2015.

62 years of love
62 years of love | Source

Loss of Conrol

Let’s face it – sooner or later Alzheimer's disease takes control and robs your loved one of their ability to live independently. We are forced to admit that no matter how strong we are or how much money we have, some things are just bigger than we are. One of those things is Alzheimer’s Disease. It is a disease that we may never fully understand. How could we? The person whose mind has erased all but partial memories can’t tell us how it feels. Science can explain the physiological changes but not the emotions. Science can’t give us the answers for all the questions we have.

We are never really prepared.

The recent changes in my Dad’s mental status have been alarming. His increasing outbursts of anger have left our family concerned for my Mom’s safety. It is not something our family knows much about. We are peaceful, loving people who express anger in words, not actions. That was then. This is now. We are not prepared for this journey but here we are – on the road to big changes.

A Change Is Going To Come

For anyone who has a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease, there is a fear that one day you will have to place that loved one in an environment that can ensure their safety. The words ‘assisted-living’ don’t sound very threatening. We’ve used them many times in our family as we talked about the future with my Mom and Dad. What we did not say was ‘locked’. The thought of my Dad needing to be locked into a secure unit never crossed our minds. As I’ve said, we are a peaceful, loving family so how did we arrive here?

A visit with the geriatric psychiatrist this week pulled the proverbial rug out from under us. I quote – “It is time to place your Dad in an assisted-living facility and there are three in the area that have locked units.” The words still resonate in my mind – locked unit…locked unit…locked unit. This is my Dad we are talking about, not some criminal or wild animal. And this is the emotional me talking. The practical, rational me knows the psychiatrist is right but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

Preparing for Assisted-Living

The psychiatrist advised the following steps to begin the process.

  • Contact the local Alzheimer’s Foundation office for guidance.
  • Visit each assisted-living facility and talk to the staff.
  • Prepare a financial statement including assets and debt.
  • Choose the facility that ‘feels’ like the best fit.

That doesn’t seem too difficult and it makes perfect sense. It’s the next step that is impossible to wrap my brain around.

“There'll be two dates on your tombstone And all your friends will read 'em But all that's gonna matter is that little dash between 'em”. - Kevin Welch

What about that house full of memories?

Mom and Dad have lived in the same house for 55 years. We moved there when I was three. My brother was born three years later. We rode our first bikes in that yard, caught the school bus for the first time on that street, and stole our first kiss in the basement of that house. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries around the dining room table and the walls hold photographs of our childhood and our ancestors too. Mom never threw anything away, especially if it had sentimental value. There are dozens of cabinets and chests full of trinkets of our lives. The closets are still the keepers of our first report cards and letters from our teachers. The hutch in the dining room holds all the crystal, china, and silver that we rarely used but were so proud to have. And I wonder, how do you pack 55 years of memories into a few boxes that Mom and Dad can carry with them into an assisted-living facility? How do you choose what goes and what stays? And then what? Will those precious memories become someone else’s auction treasure or a ‘best buy’ from a yard sale?

Understanding and Hope

As hard as it is for me to wrap my brain around this process, it must be much harder on my Mom. Dad may not even notice but Mom is terrified. Her home was her pride and joy. It was her sole purpose in life to provide a warm and comfortable home for her family and their friends. And now, she is being told, not asked, to give it up. When I look in her eyes, I see the sadness. I see the fear. I want to reassure her; to make this new adventure seem exciting. I want to believe that if I’m okay with it, she will be too. I need to believe it.

Remembering the Lessons With Love

Life is a great teacher. It can teach us to celebrate health and wealth and it can teach us to appreciate and value each day. Many of us lose patience with the elderly. We accuse them of being stuck in the past. They don’t walk fast enough and their stories take too long to tell. We rush them along and listen with only one ear. We express our frustration when they resist change and refer to the past as the good old days while we refer to their present as the golden years. Tell me though, what is golden about packing a lifetime of memories into a few boxes and leaving the only place that ever felt like home?

Our elders deserve to be treated with dignity. They look to us now for reassurance and comfort; the same reassurance and comfort they gave to us when they wiped our runny nose or skinned our knees on the playground. When we were bullied at school they held us and told us how strong we were and that no one, nowhere, would ever hurt us as long as they were around. Don’t they deserve that from us?

It is impossible to really prepare to give up the home we have loved or the things that we collected over a lifetime. We can't prepare our parent or loved one for life in assisted-living but we can be a positive influence as they face a future of fear and uncertainty. We can remind them that a house is not a home. It is the love of family that makes a home. We can remind them of the days of your youth when their voice comforted you and promised to never leave you alone. Make them the same promise. Remember that fear has no respect for age and that even at 80, when you have lived through economic depression, illness, and death, that you can still be afraid.

We may not be able to pack all the memories of a lifetime into a few boxes but we can carry the rest in our hearts. And maybe, just maybe, once the dust settles, we can sit for a spell and share the stories.

“You might have loved me, if you had known me. If you had ever known my mind. If you would have walked through my dreams and memories. Who knows what treasures you might have found. Yes, you might have loved me. If you had only taken the time.” - Author Unknown

© 2013 Linda Crist


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