Monday, February 6, 2012
I always thought that if I turned my blog into a book, I would include a list in the form of an 'afterward' of what I've learned while going on this journey with my Dad. This list would include advice or what to expect...
When I hear about friends who are about to embark on an Alzheimer's journey with a relative, I feel compelled to share what I've learned. It's possible that if I was armed with some of this knowledge, it would have helped.
A recent conversation with a friend has prompted me to make my list. Make of it what you will... and feel free to add your own advice in the form of a comment.
My list is geared more toward finding a facility that works for you etc... since I don't have a live-in Alzheimer's patient, I don't have much to add in the area of being a full-time care giver at home.
(I would say the first 3 on this list are incredibly important)!!
1. You may not think that your relative's dementia is "advanced enough" to be in a lock-down, Alzheimer's facility, but chances are that by the time you have started considering that option, it's absolutely a necessity.
Our Dad was 69 years old (relatively young for an alzheimer's patient), completely ambulatory, very talkative/active, dressed himself, put his dentures on... etc, so we thought that he just needed partial supervision and care. We learned the hard way after he ran away from a non-secure facility. In reality, since we were not around him all the time, we had no idea how bad things had gotten and how much he needed that secure environment. His safety and our peace of mind became more important.
2. Once your loved one is taken out of their personal/familiar environment, and placed in a home, you will inevitably see a decline in memory, confusion, or behavior. This is normal.
My Dad could no longer clean his dentures, he was confused about where the bathroom was, and he was constantly trying to escape among many other things. Every move results in a decline.
3. Move your loved one to a facility close to you. There is no point in keeping them far away just so that they can stay in a familiar city or town. A move is a move is a move. Whether it's down the street or across the country, your loved one will be equally confused and upset about their new home.
When we moved my Dad, he automatically forgot where he had lived for the past 20 years and instead could only remember his childhood home in Pasadena. In some of the worst months after the move, Megan and I would need to visit him up to 4 or 5 times a week, so it was imperative that we be nearby.
4. Do not allow your loved one to take his/her valuables to their new home. They will get lost or 'stolen'.
Unfortunately, there were two items of value that we are sorry to have lost. A turquoise watch and ring that we let him take with him. In a home, many of the residents "shop" in the other resident's rooms. My Dad was a big shopper and we always found things that didn't belong to him. Naturally, things get moved around and none of it is done maliciously, but we couldn't expect the staff to take care of my Dad AND all his things...
5. Once you truly do believe that your loved one needs help, trust your instinct, gut, and intuition.With this disease you learn quick and you learn to quickly trust yourself.
6. Listen. And Agree.
When my Dad would get upset about his living situation, we would usually try to change the subject. But once we learned to listen to him, and re-assure him that we will fix the problem tomorrow, he would become happy and trustful again. He wanted to be heard and he was happy when we agreed with him. There is no explaining or reasoning with an Alzheimer's patient. Appease them as much as you can in the moment.
7. Use the things that they hold dear. By talking about their hobbies or loved ones, they are able to keep a sense of who they are for a while longer.
Any time we talked about The Dodgers, Fishing, Frank Sinatra (or any music for that matter) my Dad came to life and felt like himself again.
Dad also likes to laugh and tell jokes... and even if we had no idea what he was talking about, laughter went a long way every time.
8. Be prepared for anything and everything. This is the most unpredictable disease.
9. Form a relationship with the care-givers at his/her home.
10. Don't be too hard on yourself and don't let guilt get in the way. There are professionals who know how to deal with this disease and that's why a home can be a wonderful place. You have the chance to spend quality time with your loved one instead of being their full-time caregiver.
(For those of you who are full-time caregivers... your strength, commitment and love are immeasurable. And I commend you for that.)