I shared with you recently that my father had, among other issues, Alzheimer’s disease. His journey came to an inglorious end in late March after we had moved him to a nursing home. He was there only 12 days when I got the call from the nurse at the Iowa facility saying that while she could be wrong, experience told her he was dying. Three hours later, with his 90 year old wife at his side, he indeed succumbed.
It was a whirlwind in the last months. His congestive heart failure made him weak and he stayed in bed for most of most days. His dementia made him confused and often uncooperative. My sister and I flew home just two weeks prior to his death to visit the prospective nursing home and assess my mom’s sense of readiness. At this point, he was beginning to have accidents of the bowel and while the four of us scrambled to clean him up, I knew I would leave in a couple of days and my mother would be left – as she had been – alone to cope.
Three days later she called in a panic. He was hallucinating and agitated, wanted scissors or a knife to attack the bedclothes… there was something in them. She was afraid to get into bed with him. Two days later the local hospice nurse – a hero of our story – came and told Dad the doctor wanted him to get more nursing care and he meekly, if feebly, complied, though the next day, he tried to escape.
I’m sure my mother felt whip-sawed. In a matter of months she went from intense and increasing care demands to the brief but stressful role of executive caregiver and then lost her husband of 68 years.
So often during this journey, here half way across the country, I felt like I was in a fog. And so often I had the benefit of sitting with one of our wonderful program staff to talk about what was going on. They reminded me of things I already knew but often couldn’t see while in the midst of trying to counsel my mom and deal with my own experience.
Social workers sometimes talk of “normalizing the experience,” and I thought of my mother. This was the only Alzheimer’s patient she knew and he often behaved in difficult ways. For our team, there was really very little they hadn’t considered or discussed before. It didn’t make the problems go away, but it made the journey a little easier. I very much appreciate what our folks do and the sound counsel they provided my family.
Remember, if you need help making the journey easier, any time day or night, you can call us at 800.272.3900.