Visiting the Alzheimer’s Parent-Reluctantly!

by francy Dickinson

Dear Francy; Mother just called and she has been visiting my dad, daily in his new Alzheimer’s care place. She needs a day off and wants me to go over. I know I’m suppose to want to help her and attend to him, but I do not want to go. How can I tell her I am not going?

You Don’t! You re-focus your thoughts about the situation and you come to your mother’s aid. Now, do not think I do not understand your feelings. I have a husband with Alzheimer’s and I have many a day that I just want to go out the door, get in the car and drive as far away as I can drive. But I am his wife of 27 years and he deserves to be cared for so I re-focus my mind and move through those sad and helpless feelings.

Your mother is really your concern now. Your father is in a care facility and they will care for him. But your mother is suffering from a loss of her husband that will feel like he has died, but he is still there in front of her and she has to still be concerned with his well being. The loss one feels, as a spouse of a person with dementia, comes on in different degrees from the first signs and certainly the formal diagnosis. You feel like the person you married has changed. Then you feel like you have to help them, but it soon becomes clear that you can not make them well. Women make people they love well – like their children over colds and broken legs and husbands over the flu. But dementia/Alzheimer’s does not have a cure, it has a progressive change of behavior and memory loss. Your mom would find that little things effect your dad in strange ways, he may be short tempered or confused over things he did well all his life. She would start to slowly take on his chores and tasks in their home life. Then the money responsibilities, then the main repair responsibilities, then the decisions made for family events, where to go to dinner and if to take a family holiday. Then there are dietary changes, more medications, more doctor appointments and more intensive care and overseeing her husband. Slowly she is the one with all the power in the home and your father would feel that change and fight against it. She would find her feelings hurt one minute and guilt over her feelings the next. She would feel the small intimacy’s leaving their relationship and the little jokes between them would be forgotten. Their favorite music, movies and friends then leave his mind and she is left alone. All alone- but still standing next to her husband. The feelings of loss begin in small steps and then escalate into sorrow and grief. Now, she’s made a decision to place him in a place away from their home. She is absorbed in worry over her decision and she goes home to a house that is totally empty. The worry does not stop. She may have to sell the house for his care, or go through their retirement money that she would need for her own care. She has been going to the center to see him each day for one reason. She does not want him to forget her. Then all of a sudden, she’s exhausted and has to rest and yet she needs someone to check on him in these early days. She turns to her daughter and that is YOU. No matter how you personally feel and I know you have all of your own reactions to his condition and what has happened the last few years – you are her only hope of rest. So, you need to re-focus on her for now and just walk through a few things with me.

  • Call your mother and tell her you will go over and see your dad for the next two days, not just today. Tonight you will bring her dinner and a bottle of wine for you both to share. You’ll be there by six and she can rest and have an early dinner and then sleep. Do not take no for any answers, you need to start to be assertive with your mother now, she needs your care.
  • You will make up your mind that this is a duty, I know you have love for your parents, but this is a moral duty. I know you understand those things and you will make it through with my help.
  • You will shower and get nice and clean with no fragrance and then dress in a down manner of everyday clothes without bright colors or patterns. Colors and patterns are hard for your father to process with his mind and his senses may be put in a spin with a fragrance.
  • You will stop by a good bakery and get one of those large cookies, or a package of ding dongs or something special to take with you. Sugar treats are good for men anytime.
  • You will also get yourself a small spiral notebook and stick it in your purse with a pen. When you are done with your visit you will write down the date and time and then make a note of anything that upset you. Only one upset allowed per visit. Then you write down one thing you personally feel went well. This is your journal to help you through this process. Tuck it in your bag or the car for use after each visit.
  • Then you will go and find one of your favorite pictures with you as a young girl. With or without your parents in the pic and then you will take it to the drug store and blow it up to a large size and print it off. You will pick up a package of those thumb tacks and then print your name and “daughter” on the bottom. Or Emily with Dad or some such thing. So anyone entering the room and not knowing your family will understand who you are in the picture.
  • You will then drive over to the care center and as you enter the door you will look up at the clock and take note of the time. Because you will be there only 20 minutes. No less, no more.
  • You will smile at the staff and ask to be directed to your Dad’s room and then you will take a deep breath and walk in with a smile. You will ask the nurse to turn down the TV, NOT OFF -just down so his attention is at you not trying to focus in all directions. You will say; “Dad you are looking great, it’s Emily, your daughter and I have a cookie for you.” You hand him the cookie.
  • You do not look to see if he sees you as his daughter and knows your name. You just smile a loving smile at the man that is your Dad.
  • You resist asking him how he is. You’re there to talk and you do the talking. You start with a slow and informed pattern of speech. You talk to him as though he is able to understand you. DO NOT talk to him as a child, even if you think he does not understand. Your job is to have a one sided conversation with him.
  • Show him the photo. Say,”Dad, I brought you my favorite photo from when I was little. When you see this remember I love you.” Then go over to the wall opposite his bed and thumb tack it up. Get yourself situated in a chair or somewhere comfortable and then begin in a good tone so he can hear you. Talk to his head and as he moves around, just ignore the moving, keep your rhythm up and just talk.
  • Now, you talk as you would any friend you have not seen in a couple of weeks. Tell him how you are, your house, the kids and your husband, or friends. Let him know about your job and what is happening there. Each time you talk, you re-introduce the details to him. “Joey and Mary, your grand kids are doing so well. You remember how Joey loves to swim – well he is doing so well, he just won an award. I guess he gets that from you and all your time golfing.”  take little breaks and keep your voice calm and pleasant. “Work is good, you know how I work as a bookkeeper for the insurance company and I have had a lot of extra things to do. My boss has taken another job and the office has been very busy. I know you understand since you were always busy with your work, too!” That sort of thing. When you run out of things to say. You just smile and sit and just relax. This is not a performance, it’s just another way of talking to someone that cares about you, but their mind is so confused that they find it hard to put their thoughts together. You see what you do after a few minutes is relax him, he hears and remembers your voice tones and he may fight to make the connection of who you are and what you are telling him – but it all goes in his mind. It may come out in clarity after you have left, or never. But he will know he likes your voice and he likes that you are there. It just takes his mind so long to process that his reaction is not in normal time mode.
  • You inspire him to an upbeat mode. You make sure you stay in control and you just talk. “I worked in the garden today, the sun was so warm on my face, it felt good.” That is that, make it an easy way to talk.
  • If he asks you something you answer, if it’s a subject you do not want to talk about, move your answer to another thought pattern. “Oh, dad my car is working well. I drove over here just fine. I was worried about the brakes last week, but they seem fine now.” Keep the words simple and easy for you and easy for him.
  • When the 20- minutes is up. You stand and say goodbye. It is good to try to touch him, either in a hug or just pat his hand or shoulder. Smile and tell him you will be here tomorrow and then turn and leave. That is that. Nothing big, nothing hard, nothing sad, just a visit.
  • On your way out, you stop by the nursing desk and you thank them for caring for your father. You tell them you will be here each week when your mother takes a break and give them your home phone for an alternate number in case of emergency.
  • Now, when you return you can bring your computer, or bills to pay, or needlework to do – if your dad is really quiet. Just sitting there and talking a little and then doing something simple in front of him will bring his mind to place of quiet and ease. If he is having a hard time that day, let the nurses care for him and you just sit and relax. It may be a warm day and walk around their exercise area would be good, too. Always take a deep breath and keep working on your project or the task at hand and let him “feel” your peace.

Then you leave and go to your mother. She has to be cared for during her time of grief and this is grief. She has lost your dad. Even though he is still alive, he is gone to her and she is all alone. You need to understand this and let her friends and family understand it too. She may need some dinners for a few weeks, she may need some lunches with friends. Things to keep her mind filled as she works through the different things she is facing. If she needs you to go to her doctor, or bank, or lawyer, or her minister…offer to be there. You will make it through this together.

I am very sorry, this has happened to your family. I’m sorry it has happened to me. You and I both have to remember; this is a progressive condition we cannot fix it, but we can support the process. And in the process we have to ask others to help us, too. You have to tell your children, husband, and friends that you are going through a nasty time and you would appreciate their love and kindness. You have eat well, sleep well and stay strong for your mother. You will have to have an eye open for her health now. The key issue is none of us need to lose our health over the care of our loved ones. So, it takes work and together is how we can cope and get through to the other side of this time with your dad.

I know you are strong enough to do this. I know your mother will make it through this time, too. But I hope you will go to my website and read some of my tips for dementia and Alzheimer’s care . Thank you for understanding love is sometimes duty – and we all face it at certain times in our lives. It’s just a matter of time and then life will renew itself.

Please go and enjoy the rest of the Alzheimer blogs on my Dear Francy blogs and visit my website www.seniorcarewithspirit.comto get more information. Don’t forget, when you get to the stage that you need  care facility help for your loved one, please contact me and let me help you through that process with our Loving MemoriesSenior Care Facility Placement Service that is FREE for you to use.

Thank you, francy

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