Your parents keep secrets: The Great Cover-Up

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR SECRETS


“The first sign I can remember? It was when Mom got lost driving home from the dentist,” Dad says.

“When was that?” I ask.

“After her first hip replacement.”

My forehead wrinkles as I do the math. “That was…fourteen years ago, Dad.”

“Yes.  That’s right.  She had worked really hard on a beautiful fruit salad, and she was supposed to be delivering it to the church.  But eventually, one of the church ladies called because they were expecting her and she never arrived.”

I am mesmerized.  This is the first time I have heard this story.  Mom is in hospice now, preparing for her journey to heaven.

“So what did you do?”

“Well, I kept an eye out for her.  And when she got home about an hour later, the fruit salad was beside her in the passenger seat.  I asked her what happened, and she told me that she decided to run an errand instead.  But I could see she was shook up.”

That makes two of us.

My mind floods with questions.  Why had I never heard this story before? Had Diane heard it? Had Dad taken action on this red flag to keep Mom safe on the road? To keep others safe on the road? 

A lifetime as his daughter helps me conjure up a quick list of possibilities why we are just now having this conversation:  1) Dad was resisting the truth, as I’ve done so often in recent years; 2) Dad was protecting us kids from what was happening with Mom; 3) Dad was worried about tipping us off and the impact that two meddling daughters would have on their privacy.  Whatever the reason, it all adds up to The Great Cover Up.

Dad is too sad tonight for me to probe any further. 

What can you do to get past your Caregiver’s Cover Up and learn the truth of what’s happening?  And if you never do, how can you learn to forgive yourself…and them?

What a stressed caregiver sounds like

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR STRESS

“Give me a break,” Dad snaps.  “Do you think we keep this place a pigsty?” It is now 9pm and Mom has gone to bed. Dad’s been up since 4am.  He’s toast.

“Of course not,” I respond. “I seriously just want to know what you think about Diane coming up to put all your important papers in a fireproof box.”

“And just why would we need Diane to get our papers together? Do you think we are going to lose them or something?” Dad barks back.

Clearly, Diane’s well-intentioned offer has insulted Dad.  I take a deep breath, and then try a new approach.

“Last month, Diane moved her important papers to a fireproof box.  So she thought it would be nice to do the same thing for your papers.”

Dad pauses before replying. “I’ll have to ask your mother.  Anyway, why would she need to come all the way here do such a simple thing? I manage this place on my own just fine, you know.”

“The box is a gift Dad. A present,” I explain.  “And the visit is just because she loves you. It’s just that simple.  We love you, Dad.”

In these moments, I know that Alzheimer’s caregiving leaves Dad sleep-deprived, needing more patience, and yearning for even the smallest hint that the disease might be slowing down.  Still, it surprises me every time he comes back at me.  After all, I’m in touch. I’m trying. I care.

In time, I realize that, as Dad grows his Caregiver skills on this Alzheimer’s journey, I have an opportunity to grow my compassion and forgiveness skills. Plus patience, which has been on my growth list for years. 

We both have our work cut out for us.

Do you find your parent’s Alzheimer’s journey giving you opportunities to grow in surprising ways?  If so, how are you responding to these growth opportunities?

 

Finding a good time to chat with your Caregiver

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR CLOTHING


“Your blue eyes look so pretty when you wear this blouse, Hon.” Dad sweet-talks Mom as I wait on the phone.

“These clothes are fine.” replies Mom

“Honey, it’s laundry day.  Time to give this outfit a bath,” Dad teases.

“I wore this to bed, so it’s already clean.  Just leave me alone,” says Mom.  I hear her footsteps, loud at first, then fading as she walks away.

“Dad? Are you there?,” I ask.

“Oh for goodness sake!,” Dad snaps. “The oatmeal is burning.” I hear the click of the stove dial and the clang of the pot. “Look, I’ve got to go,” Dad says.

“I love you Dad. Talk to you soon.”

“Bye.”

I glance at the notes on my computer screen.  Today I wanted to continue our conversation about visiting the local Adult Day Program with Mom. Three years of notes on just this subject stare back at me on the screen.  Three years of phone calls with the Director, three years of planning.

Clearly, I need to put even more effort into finding a good time to have this conversation with Dad.

Does it require a lot of effort to find the right time for the important discussions you need to have with your Caregiver?  When there are only so many opportunities to be with a Caregiver in person, the list of critical conversations grows. 

The process of elimination helps. During meal preparation, meal time, and meal cleanup remember that your Caregiver is juggling chores and Caregiving, so they are twice as busy.  Try to call afterward.  Perhaps they take walks or naps every day.  Respect that.  Show your support and love for your Caregiver by putting effort into finding a good time for them to have the conversations that need to happen. 

When can your Caregiver be present for a conversation?

When your Loved One needs more care than they get at home

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR DECISIONS


“How did your annual physical go, Dad?”

“Dr. T. says I lost 50 pounds.”

I take a deep breath.  “Since last year?” I ask.

“Yes.”

Fifty pounds?  Dad was already skinny.  Did he even have that much weight to spare?  That’s why his belt was cinched so tight last time I saw him.

Refocusing on the conversation, I dig deeper.  “And what did Dr. T. say about that?

“He said that I need to make a change,” Dad explains.  “He says that it’s my responsibility to care for Mom, and that I can only do that if I take care of myself first.”

 I take a deep breath in.  “So what are you thinking?”

 “It’s time to look for a Memory Care Facility for your Mom.”

I exhale. 

After all these years. After all my other-than-perfect efforts to support my Dad – I have finally learned a few things.  I learned that ultimately, Dad will make all the decisions about Mom’s care himself.  I learned that there are better uses of my energy than trying to speed Dad toward a decision before he was ready.  My opportunity was to grow my patience and my compassion, as I learned to work on Dad’s timeline. 

Has your Alzheimer’s Caregiver finally agreed to accept help with caring for your Alzheimer’s Loved One?   If not, what role can you play in encouraging this, without forcing their hand?  By letting the Alzheimer’s Caregiver arrive to this conclusion on their own time, you may find that you will have grown in your own unique ways, too.

              

 

Alzheimer’s and dental health – Dad looks for the root cause

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR DENTAL HEALTH


“Your Mom is definitely going to need two new crowns. And we’ll need to scrape her gums again in a month or so.” I am here today, at Dad’s request, to get answers to the questions he has yet to be able to ask Mom’s dentist.

“What’s causing Mom to need so much recurring dental work?” I ask.

“It’s the plaque,” the Dentist says.

“Plaque?  What plaque?”

“See?” he says, showing me Mom’s gums. “Due to poor brushing.”

Dad goes pale for a moment.  As a genuine, grade-A, dental hygiene advocate, Dad brushes his teeth three or four times a day.  And he tells Mom to brush her teeth three or four times a day too.  He even bought her an electric toothbrush and a timer to help her keep brushing long enough for all her teeth to be clean.

A prior conversation with the doctor at MemoryCare comes to mind. Dad had voiced concern that Mom had yet to help him clean the bathroom sink anymore. 

“Dad, remember the Memory Care Doctor said Mom probably forgets what she’s doing in the middle of the chore?  Mom wants to help…it’s remembering the steps and the sequence of the steps that’s the challenge.   Could it be the same thing with brushing her teeth?”

Dad is silent.  In time, I say out loud what we’re both thinking:

“From now on, Mom is going to need you to keep her focused while she brushes.”

Dad sums it up. “So now I am a tooth-brushing monitor.”

Have you thought about the impact on your Alzheimer’s Caregiver of becoming a hands-on care provider? What would it be like to get involved with a mate’s “activities of daily living” like brushing teeth?  Has your Alzheimer’s Caregiver shared any stories with you of moving from helpmate role to caretaker role?  Consider ways you can help your Caregiver cross a milestone like this, and move forward with acceptance.  Is there a space for joy and humor in it all?

Support Dad with his support group

ALZHEIMER’S, YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR HEALTH


“This retired Pastor in my group…” Dad begins, with tears in his eyes. “This Pastor says that over his career, he advised hundreds of people how to handle loved ones with memory loss.  Now he’s caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s.  And he says that now, for the first time, now that it is his wife, he really sees it.  He really sees what Alzheimer’s asks from a Caregiver.”

Six months before, Dad still was yet to be a “Support Group” kind of person.  But today, stories from his fellow Caregivers are the fuel that keep him going.

I find that I am so grateful Dad has connected with others – people whom he respects and who are walking the Alzheimer’s Caregiver journey alongside him.

I smile with my realization:  try as I might, there is only so much that I can be and do for my Dad.

Does your Alzheimer’s Caregiver have someone who truly understands their daily life?  Encourage them to ask their friends if they know of an Alzheimer’s Support Group nearby.  Make some inquiries into someone who can stay with your Alzheimer’s Loved One during the meeting so that your Caregiver can attend focused and carefree. Consider if there is a way that you can help them attend even just once.  After all, one meeting may be enough to convince your Alzheimer’s Caregiver to attend regularly. This could be a game changer for everyone involved.