We laughed about it, but that was before we realized the warning it indicated. My mother-in-law answered the phone that rang for the first time in an apartment in a seniors’ complex into which we were moving her and my father-in-law.
Thinking the call might be related to logistics of the move, I eaves dropped as she cordially assured the caller everything was fine and thanked the person for calling.
Was it the electric company, water works, or something I needed to know? “Who was that?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded incredulously.
We didn’t know it then, but thus began the slide into cognitive dysfunction for both of my in-laws, actually. It set my wife, in particular, on a course faced by so many, as Americans live longer but their minds fade.
From Raising a Family To…
It typically plays out like this: You have finally reached that point in your life where you can concentrate on the things that personally matter to you. You have established a career or raised a family, or perhaps you have done both. You are happy that you are at this point in your life, and you are ready to pursue all those things you’d set aside for the last twenty years.
Then one or both of your parents are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
You have to sit back, shake your head and sigh. The irony of the situation is sometimes too much. Yet, you love your parents and would do anything for them, so you put the watercolors back on the shelf and start making a list of what needs to be accomplished.
Fortunately, this crisis is mitigated somewhat by the infrastructure of our society, which has resulted in services for the elderly including comfortable home environments with ready care at your fingertips. A Birmingham assisted living facility I toured provided even “memory care” to its residents; an indication that commercial enterprise is rising to meet the challenge.
But there’s still a big burden on you – the one who makes the agonizing decisions and executes essentially a parent role over your parents.
Keys To Coping
• Settle Sibling Differences. Siblings arguing over the care and control of their parents can make things very difficult, especially if the subject is approached later rather than sooner. While your parent(s) are still very cognitive, establish who is going to do what for your parents, allowing for parental input. By handling this way, it can later be argued “but this is what Mom wanted.”
• Locate Documents. Make sure that you know where all of your parents’ important documents are located. If they are in a safe deposit box, have your parents remove them and close the box.
This should include their respective Wills, life insurance policies, mortgage paperwork or deed to the home, car payment and insurance policies, health insurance information, and any and all of their debts. This will enable you easily access files when you need to take control of the finances.
• Line Up Legalities. It’s relatively easy to assume power of attorney, which your parents will probably agree to long before they’re infirmed, particularly since it’s something that applies only when they’re incapable of handling their own duties.
A legal guardianship is a far more intrusive and comprehensive role that many times results in you forcing your parents to do things to which – in their diminished capacity to reason – they might object.
It can be really helpful to discuss this eventuality well in advance, when your parents are functioning normally. You can discuss others you know in this situation and point out that aging individuals declining in cognitive function tend to become stubborn and resist measures that are in their best interests.
Setting this up well in advance will avert the agony of trying to do it later – when your parents are lucid at times while drifting in and out of dysfunctionality. Have the paperwork drafted as well in advance as possible.
• Look Into Help. There are many organizations, some of which are non-profits, that will help you care for your parents and provide some relief. Taking authority over the authority figures of your life is a daunting task emotionally, especially during lucid moments when they want to know why you are running their lives. Take advantage of these services so that you can have an afternoon off to regroup and relax.
• Educate Yourself. My wife was helped immeasurably by the book, The 36-Hour Day1 and I suspect there are many other insightful books and articles. You’ll have to deal with many different phases of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
There were times my wife had to stand firm in taking verbal retribution from the father to whom she had always been daddy’s little girl. Understanding what is going on, or what is coming next, can keep you from getting crushed emotionally.
It’s hoped these steps alleviate some of the confusion and pain in transitioning into parenting your parents. It will be heart-wrenching much of the time, but giving your parents this type of care and love is the reasonable return for all they’ve done for you.
Writer/blogger Terry Duschinski is thankful there are places such as Chateau Vestavia, a Birmingham assisted living, as well as independent living facilities enabling the elderly to live out their lives in dignity and comfort.