Living with Dementia: Becoming a Caregiver
Oh, my gosh!!! I, suffering from vascular dementia myself, am now a CAREGIVER for another dementia sufferer!!! I have been writing from the viewpoint of someone with dementia-and now I can write from the viewpoint of someone with dementia who is dealing with someone with dementia/Alzheimer's. As of this moment, I do not know what type of dementia my "charge" has. (I shall call her LADY K.) She has had some TIA's, so it may be vascular in nature, though it doesn't appear to be this type. She is 89 years old, so it could be related to her age. No matter what kind it is, this new turn in my life has left me quite breathless.
I have mentioned in the past that I have an elderly friend whose children have nothing to do with her. (Long story. They have their reasons.) Little did I know so long ago, that I would become her unlegally-adopted daughter, but time does have its way of sealing relationships. This lady remained totally healthy (well, she didn't go to the doctor or take medication) until she hit 80. Since then, she has been diagnosed with COPD. Diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol. Glasses and hearing aids have been added begrudgingly and not very successfully. During the past five or more years, friends and I have done what we could to help Lady K remain living independently in a senior apartment. Until now. Lady K has been slipping more and more mentally. The straw that broke the camel's back occurred while I was on my cruise. She flooded her apartment and the one underneath her. (Another long story.) I had made arrangements for another of our friends to keep an eye on Lady K while I was gone. A couple of days after the flood, Lady K exhibited symptoms of a TIA (mini-stroke) while eating breakfast. Hospitalization showed some blockages in her carotid arteries. She was released to go back to the hotel where she and our friend were staying. By the time I got back on Friday afternoon, our friend was beside herself with frustration. Lady K was acting unrationally, involving police, an ambulance crew, and the front desk of the hotel (another long story). The time had come, we realized, when we had to take action. The next morning, after calling several hospitals, I found one in the next county who could work with dementia patients. We had to get Lady K evaluated before the county just willy-nilly placed her in a group home (which I did not believe she could handle). (I forgot to tell you that the senior apartments are not allowing Lady K to come back there to live.) We were able to get Lady K into the hospital where they very shortly realized that she needed a 24 hour sitter in her room. Days later, she was released to a medical facility to receive physical therapy and further evaluation. That's where she is now, twenty minutes away from my home.
So far, not so terribly bad, huh? But all is not settled yet! The entire contents of her apartment were rapidly bundled up on the day of the flood and everything was quite literally thrown into a POD, a portable storage unit. After the flood, knowing that she wouldn't be able to use much of what was in the POD, Lady K gave permission to give her items to some organization like Salvation Army. Two friends and I, plus my husband started clearing out the POD on Saturday. Two trailer loads of items went to Salvation Army, and we are only about half way through the POD. I have saved pants and shirts, pajamas, shoes, etc which Lady K can use at some point in the future. I tried to save her most favorite items full of sentimental value. I am doing my best to help her. We have to empty the POD by January 2, so we don't have much time.
Now, here comes the rub, and where I begin to really really appreciate all that you caregivers go through and do: I told Lady K that we had started to clean out the POD and when she discovered that I had given away some of her clothes, she began yelling at me: "YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO GIVE MY THINGS AWAY! WHAT CLOTHES DID YOU GIVE AWAY? I WOULDN'T DO THAT TO YOU, LEAH!" After spending hours in below freezing degree temperatures, working at her POD, these words were the last ones I was expecting to hear from her. But then, again, in her frame of mind now, I never know what to expect to hear or see...nothing would or should surprise me!
You may be wondering...yes, I do have Power of Attorney and all the legal obligations have been secured already. I have been doing her bills for a couple of years and I am on her banking accounts. She is a lady of very lean means, so rest assured I am not a gold-digger...this is a Christian deed I am doing. I just hope it doesn't harm me physically and mentally to do it! I could use any ideas you can give me!!!