14 July 2010

The delicate balance

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and Home Instead Senior Care.

I have never had children, but I almost wish I had, because I think that having toddlers would be good training for dealing with the elderly.

The two groups have many of the same characteristics. They can’t always control their bodies the way they would like to. They sometimes have trouble expressing themselves. They get frustrated at their limitations. They get tired easily and they need their naps.

My father, who has dementia, often gets so disgusted when he can’t put a sentence together that he will quit talking altogether.
“Aw, just forget it,” he grumbles, throwing his hands down.

In helping the elderly – especially those with close emotional ties to you – there is the added consideration of trying to preserve their dignity and independence while keeping in mind that they may not always know what is best for themselves anymore.

Right now I am struggling with my father’s medication. He has taken a dislike to the mail-order pharmacy, claiming they screwed up his order on purpose. Prescriptions through the local pharmacy cost more than twice as much.

Do I overrule him and order from the place he doesn’t like, even though he has the money to pay for the more expensive prescriptions? Or do I do what seems like the prudent thing and save him money, at the cost of his wishes?

Yet largely, I am lucky. My parents, though significantly disabled (my dad by partial blindness and the dementia and my mother by severe arthritis) are very independent. They live in their own home with the most minimal of help (housekeeping and gardening). They don’t need 24-hour care or help with bodily functions.

Their life motto might well be “Don’t be a bother.” They go so far out of their way to not trouble me that sometimes it approaches ridiculousness.

I’ll find out they have been suffering along without something they need, and when I ask why, they will say “Oh, we didn’t want you to go out of your way.”

My dad made this door-closer out of rubber bands when the little air cylinder on their screen door broke. Just because he is mostly blind and can't remember anything doesn't mean he's not clever.

Recently, my mom asked me to pick up an electric blanket for my dad. It took me about a week to get around to purchasing one.

The next day, my mom said “Dad slept better than he has in a while with that new blanket. He has been so cold at night.”

My dad was apparently freezing without the blanket and they didn’t say anything about really needing a new one because they didn’t want to bug me. I had assumed that they needed a new one just because the old one was getting shabby, not because he was too cold.

Sigh. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

I teeter between thinking I am a good person because at least I see my folks every day, and feeling like a jerk because I don’t always know how to meet all of their needs.

Again, kind of like what I hear parents say about having toddlers.

Full disclosure: I got paid to write this post by Home Instead Senior Care. They would love it if you visited BlogHer.com and nominated a hero caregiver to win a cruise (not me, for goodness' sake).


jillian said...

I often think that dealing with my 3 year old is like dealing with an old person. Especially a demented old person. Sometimes she makes sense and can answer questions and carry on a conversation, and other times it's impossible to figure out what she's talking about, although I know it's not what -I- am talking about. Sometimes she is irritable or frustrated about I-have-no-idea-what. She knows she needs my help but she hates it when I help her. Plus, you know, bodily functions.

At least I can expect that she'll get over it. Best wishes for your journey with your parents.

Busy Mom said...

For what it's worth, you'll never feel like you're doing enough.

I made up my mind a while back to do what I can do the best I can, and not feel guilty.

Janis said...

I can totally relate. Dear old Dad, who is nearly 92 is LOUD and PROUD about the fact he's lived to be 100 already. Aside from that, he's remarkably sharp.

Anonymous said...

how old are you ?

Adrienne said...

Prudence be damned, do as he wishes, because it will be all too soon that you can't.

Kizz said...

Not everybody does strike that balance between giving them their independence and doing what you think is the better choice for them. You're a good daughter.

I could list a hundred fun "fixes" like your dad's door closer but the one that always sticks in my mind (probably because I can see myself doing it) is from my Great Aunt Rena. She kept banging her head on the edge of the cupboards that were hung over her breakfast bar. So she padded the corners with bandaids. Lifelong Home Ec teacher, proud of a spotless house, bandaids on her cupboards.

Calliope said...

"I have never had children, but I almost wish I had, because I think that having toddlers would be good training for dealing with the elderly."

Oh this had me chuckling because it was the other way around for me! 7 years of caregiving for my Grandmother has helped me become (I hope!) a better Mother.

Beaming much love and light to you as an active soldier in the battle against dementia. It sucks.

SUEB0B said...

Anonymous - I am not 40-something. I am $39.95 plus shipping and handling.

Anonymous said...

Gah. I had a very whiny whinge typed up but I deleted it. Anyway. I don't think any family care giver ever feels like they're doing enough. Ever. You always worry that you're failing someone, letting someone down, not being Good Enough. But you really can't do it all, can't know it all and as easy as it is to beat yourself up over things like the blanket, you didn't know. How were you suppose to know? Yes, it sucks that he was cold, but you. didn't. know.

I think it's one of these things that we expect from ourselves, especially as women, that we should just know things, should intuit when anyone in our family needs anything and frankly? That way madness lies. It's very hard to let go of it, though. I don't know if it's hard wired or cultural or what, but it's there and the guilt sucks. Sucks a lot.

You are doing great good things with your parents, Sue. Seriously. You are.

trinity67 said...

I agree with Busy Mom.

apathy lounge said...

I know that what you describe is my future. I dread it. Mainly because my mother has a difficult time facing reality. Both have lost hearing, but neither will consider a hearing aid. They think it makes you look old. Which, of course, they do...even without the aid. So they just pretend they get everything you're saying and then promptly miss half of it. I know things will only get worse from here.

flurrious said...

I don't have kids, but I have to think that caring for a parent is much more difficult, primarily because they're going to get less independent, not more, and they fight that -- and you -- the whole way. Which can sometimes be funny, but only after the fact. When it was apparent that my dad could no longer drive, I gently floated the idea that maybe it was time to think about selling his car. "Oh no! We can't do that! What if there's an emergency?" Yes, dad, because in case of emergency, you're the guy I want on the road.

Anonymous said...

After having been through both .....a 3 year old and and an 86 year old I realized the difference.
We are younger when we have a 3 year old and 3 year olds are cute. cuddly and can get away with it! LOL!
I read about the problems and think of my own mom living alone. She does things that are down right dangerous and lives without things that are a necessity rather than ask me for help. In her mind she will always be in charge and it is my job to make her always think she is. Than I I think of the option...not having her around at all. No matter how bad things are or how close I am to opening my mouth I step back and think of NOT having her. It calms me down.
I reflect on the age old question....
Is it better to have a shorter life and not deal with the harshness of aging or attempt to grow old with dignity and hope that I am not a bother to my kids?
My mother probably had these same thoughts so I will allow her the dignity and independence that she wants and deserves.
In reference to the other post about the medication I would use the local pharmacy but I would make sure whenever we talked about her meds I would make sure to say, "You mean the ones from the e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e pharmacy?"
2 contributions:
1) Keep your sense of humor.
2) Draw the line when it comes to them becoming a danger to others.

All else can be dealt with either alone or professional help from geriatric specialists.

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