Aging, Ill Health and Dementia Can Alter Our Parents’ Personalities: One Caregivers’ Story

I am constantly meeting caregivers who have cared for loved ones, are currently caring for a loved one, or has some story in regard to caregiving. Some of them end up as “great stories” and experiences, but not always.

I wish to share one brave soul’s caregiving experience that didn’t have the best outcome. She shares her story with you hoping it will cause you and others to carefully consider getting things in order before it’s too late. My hat goes off to her!
And now – her story.
“I am a small business owner and share my story to help others avoid what I have experienced. 
In December of 2007 my parents came to visit me for Christmas.  My father had just been released from the hospital after nearly dying from undiagnosed diabetes.  My mother was listless and dull.  They were going to stay for an entire week, the longest visit they’ve ever had with me and my family!  We enjoyed three lovely days.
At 4 AM on December 26th our phone rang.  It was my parents calling from their cell phone in our home.  My mother got up to get my Dad sugar because he was going into insulin shock.  She slipped on the last stair and fell.  The ambulance was called.  Her hip was broken and she was in terrible pain.  It took two ambulance teams to get her in the van and off to the hospital.
I followed the ambulance while my husband stayed to help my Dad.  At the hospital I was informed that my mother was on too much blood thinner and in danger of bleeding to death internally; surgery in the next few days was out of the question.  She was also found to be diabetic.  She also had suffered a heart attack in the previous two weeks and had not sought medical attention.  She was morbidly obese and may have also suffered a stroke. 
Thus began a five month ordeal of caring for two elderly and very ill parents who had neglected their health and put themselves at risk.  On a nearly daily basis I and my family dealt with trips to the hospital or rehab facility, contact management with a team of doctors back at my parents home and here in my area, hallucinogenic reactions to pain medications by my mother, nutrition management, hospital stays for my father, shopping for my parents, communication with friends and family from all over the country, transporting my father for visits back home, doctors visits, housing searches, excursions and time for their well being, meal preparation for three nutritious meals a day, supervision of medication and blood sugar levels, cleaning after them (normal and also after incontinence), laundry, conflict resolution, midnight visits on several occasions to the emergency room, all while trying to run my family and provide for us by running my business (with seven employees).
I had no idea what help was available or where to turn.  Somehow we muddled through and did the best we could.
I wish that I could tell you that all turned out well but it did not.  My mother would not cooperate with her rehab so she did not recover to the point of being able to walk and go to the bathroom on her own.  I did not know to seek guardianship of them.  They signed papers without informing us stating that they were leaving against medical advice and hired a med van to drive them back to their home where there was no one to care for them.  The trip took over nine hours.  Upon arrival there was no way to get the wheel chair in the house or through the doorways of their home.  Within two hours 9-1-1 had to be called to remove my mother from the toilet and I was contacted by Adult Social Services regarding why my parents were in their home unattended.  I had not taken responsibility to become their guardian and now the results were out of my control. 
As time went on and I continued to try and help long distance, the relationship deteriorated to the point that they disowned and disinherited me and we no longer have communication.  I truly believe that if I had access to a single source of help and guidance regarding care for the aging we could have had a very different outcome to the benefit of all.  Aging, ill health and dementia alter our parents’ personalities and relationships.  Trying ‘our best’ is not enough.”
I’m sure it was not easy for my friend to share her story, but I appreciate her genuineness and willingness to share. So many caregivers do not know what to do in a reactive situation. It is so important to know what resources are available to you as caregivers and to know that there are others who face the same issues you are facing. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
What’s your caregiving story? We’d love to hear from you.
For caregiving resources:

About Sue Salach

Sue has a Master's degree in Gerontology and has worked with the elderly and their families for over 30 years and is the Author of "Along Comes Grandpa", a caregiving resource guide, and the novel "If I Walked in Her Shoes". As an ElderCare Expert and Keynote Speaker, Sue employs her comprehensive experience and passion, to educate and promote self-care values to family caregivers and the community at large.
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