Friday, April 20, 2007

Caring for a Parent

My father-in-law has lived with us since June last year, just before his 88th birthday. About the same time my 82-year-old mother moved in with my younger sister. This was lucky for my sister and me because we were able to call each other, compare problems and commiserate with each other. Commiserate? Yes, commiserate. Having your parent move in with you is not an easy transition for anyone involved.

Dealing with a parent-child relationship that is changing in dramatic ways is difficult. The parent may have short-term memory problems. Listening to your mother repeat the same joke, tell the same antidote, worry about the same problem once every five minutes of your visit with her is difficult. Having her tell you she is moving back to her house this weekend and having to tell her that her house was sold months ago is terrible. The little look of shock on her face that her house and her possessions are gone, hurts. She was there, she chose what happened, what she kept, what she gave away. She has just forgotten.

Further problems develop when you realize you are not always dealing with an adult mentality, but one who occasionally reverts to a sneaky six-year old. They don’t want to shower or exercise. They only want to eat what they want. Even when you tell them they are diabetic and they aren’t supposed to have the candy they have crammed in their mouth. Or try telling someone with glaucoma, hearing aids that don’t seem to help much and mental spells of confusion why he can’t drive anymore. His answer to your objections, “Well, I’m sure the doctor will tell you I can at the next visit.”

Your parent might be on multiple medications for which you are responsible to see are taken in the right dosage at the proper timing -- and being sure they can’t find the drugs it they remember they have to take their medications. They might not be aware any new television series have been made since The Heat of the Night. They might use the remote to change the TV station every thirty seconds or so. You aggrevate them, even when trying not to. What you do know is that you want them to be with the people who love them and whom they know for as long as they can.

A parent’s care can be a full-time job, and different from taking care of a child who will grow and learn, the path here is only more disability, and eventually, death. It will test your strength and your patience. You will cry. We were lucky our parents remained independent as long as they did. As health problems and memory failure take over their lives, we fall back on the love they gave to us for so many years and the respect they are still due as an adult to see us through.

Their condition is a reminder to enjoy the time we have, to visit family and friends, especially the elders, for as long as we can; to take care of ourselves, exercise and follow the guidelines for good health, and lastly, to not feel guilty about having someone come in stay with your parent because you just have to get away.

1 comment:

Swimming Kangaroo said...

Thank you Rhobin. You put a good face on the loss of control and the changes in the mental state of aged loved ones. My mother frequently tells us that when she is no longer able to live by herself she WANTS to be put in a nursing home so she is not a burden to us. I tell her that when she gets to that point, she won't remember ever saying that and she'll make it very hard on us, but she is unable to understand exactly how her mind will change in the next several years. All we can do is hope they are able to remain independent for as long as possible.