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  • Jane Wheeler

A Families Journey in Aging (Part 2)

For us it was the start of what we call - "The crazy years".

Dad probably never recognized mom again and went on to look for her for the next three years. He over night had lost sight of her. He was often looking for his mother or his wife. He regressed back to a very young age, probably late teens, early twenties - just home from the Korean war.

Since Dad was Mom's caregiver - we now suddenly had 2 broken parents to look after. We took them to the Doctor and he diagnosed Mom with Alzheimer's and Dad with Dementia. He spoke to them that it was time to look at moving into an Assisted Living facility.

Mom and Dad seemed stunned at the diagnosis - all 5 of us were there and us 3 kids were so thankful that the Doctor had done the "hard" talk to our parents. At least so we thought we had no idea we would be repeating this story hundreds of times more.

We took them home that day and discussed moving options and places and made a plan to go look at some places. Low and behold when we went to get them the next day - they could not remember the Doctors visit or the fact that they had anything wrong with them and were indignant that we would even think of moving them to another place.

Now it was our turn to be stunned and were not sure what to do. We finally got them to look at a couple of options for "down the road" - but always the place was not good enough and down the road was a long ways off to them.

Then we ran into the fact that most Assisted Living places do NOT take people with Dementia or Alzheimer's - that really limited our options and our hopes slumped. We visited a couple of places that take Dementia only patients and more often than not my sister and I would leave crying and distressed at the thought of ever putting our parents in there.

We, the kids, went to Mom & Dad's lawyer and asked about a Power of Attorney - Mom and Dad had done one up approximately 1 1/2 years prior- thank goodness (please ensure you do this for your children and your own sake). They also had a living will and had a Last Will and Testament on file - after being diagnosed with Dementia you can not make or change a Will.

However, the Power of Attorney said that we had to have 2 Doctor's give the same diagnosis to become effective. How do you get your parents to another Doctor they do not know, when they do not even think there is something wrong with them, never mind tell them you think they have Dementia. It was a battle, but we got it done - I understand the concept of getting 2 doctors diagnosis, but with Dementia - everything becomes a battle since they are not thinking clearly.

Two Doctors with the same diagnosis, for us, solidified that Mom and Dad were not going to "snap out of it" or "get better." We knew we had to do something about them living on their own but we did not know what or how, especially when our parents were arguing with us each step of the way.

A few incidents pushed us into action:

1) I discovered a hole in the enamel in the top of their stove, when I had moved a hot pad. I asked Dad what had happened. He came over and replaced the hot pad and whispered "your mom just left the frying pan on one day and walked away. Just leave the hot pad on there and no one will see it." I stared at the stove top and wondered just how hot that stove had to get to actually melt the enamel.

2) We found out that mom and dad had flooded the downstairs townhouse underneath them since mom had used the hose on the laundry tub to help the washing machine fill up faster and walked away. This caused the "flood" that caused $12,000 in damage to the downstairs neighbors, who were not so very happy about this.

3) My brother was getting phone calls from residents in the complex that Mom & Dad lived in asking if indeed Mom and passed away. Dad was telling everyone that Mom had died (he could not recognize her).

Mom and Dad were still adamant that they would not move. Being creative we tried to hire nurses, aides, companions, to come and be at the house for a good portion of the day to look out for Mom and Dad. They either fired them or would not let them into the house because they had no idea who they were or why they would be needed since everything was "fine".

We would have family meetings, explain how things were and get them to agree to move, only to have them cancel the next day or the day after, not knowing what we were talking about and insist they had certainly not been to a Doctor or had any Doctor tell them they had Alzheimer's. We got them signed into a place, which was lovely, arranged a moving company to come - only to have Dad tell them in no uncertain terms that he was not moving- and he had no idea what they were talking about. This happened more than once.

One day, 3 or 4 months later, we just showed up, us 3 kids, and a moving truck and we sent them out on an errand and packed up the house. It felt horrible, it caused us such guilt, but we did not know what else to do. I remember that on the day we were packing them up, neighbors then came and told us they were glad we were taking care of Mom & Dad, they had noticed they had not been "right" lately and their driving scared them. I sigh now, just thinking if they had only come and told us before it got so bad.

Now I would like to tell you that it went well and that my parents were keen on moving. It was not like that. We placed them into an amazing Assisted Living place, much like a 5 star hotel - truly I would love to live there.

We spent the next almost year fighting with Mom and Dad and kept having to cancel moving companies when they showed up because Dad had called them to move home. They would drive around trying to get home (they were an hour from their old house). Dad was never good with directions and Mom with Alzheimer's could not remember where they were trying to get to. Sometimes the staff at the home would watch Mom & Dad drive around the parking garage trying to find their way out for extended periods of time.

Dad lost his Drivers License during this time, he failed his Driver's exam. He drove anyways, he could not remember he could not drive. Mom also drove sometimes, and that was even scarier, because she had no idea where she was going, she could not remember. She ended up loosing her license as well. We finally took the car away because they kept driving without licenses.

This was our 3 years of crazy and or as we refer to them, the "hell" years. Sometimes we felt like we were the "crazy" ones. We laughed, cried and guilted ourselves til it hurt, sometimes we fought each other because the pain we felt had to come out in some kind of fashion or eat us alive.

I am only sharing the "tip" of the iceberg, there are so many events, stories, emotions that go with this complete story.

Please Read Part 3 - 'signs and symptoms to watch for' - next week...

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