My parents had me when they were in their late 30s. As I grew older, I was always proud to talk about my parents’ age, because they aged so well. My mom always looked at least 10-15 years younger than she was, and she acted youthfully as well. She was so active, so vibrant – until she developed lung cancer in 2000 and passed away in 2006.
After my mom’s death, my father remained “youthful” (he also looked at least 10-15 years young than his age) and independent, in spite of him being diagnosed type-2 diabetic several years ago. He carried on well, keeping active, maintaining his friendships. Because my mother passed and my dad had no family in Milwaukee (where he lived for 60 years), I asked him to move in with my husband, daughter, and me last year. He has family down here in the Atlanta area (he is originally from the Macon, GA area), so I didn’t think it would be that major. But major it would be for him, so he decided to stay in Milwaukee. I explained to him that if he developed illness that required hospitalization or anything like that, there was nobody there to care for him, and it would be hard for me to travel to Milwaukee to take care of him. Nonetheless, my father said no to the idea, at least for the time being. I don’t blame him for his decision – 60 years is a long time to live somewhere, develop friendships, and then leave it to start over again in your early 80s. Talk about change!
With the exception of pains associated with getting older, my dad was generally healthy, at least we all thought, until August 8, 2008. It was on that afternoon, right before I was getting ready to go back to school and teach for the academic year, that I received a phone call from the hospital in Milwaukee. My dad had had a stroke that morning – a massive stroke – that caused whole left side weakness/paralysis. And it was that day that everything changed not just for him, but for us as well.
We moved my father to the Atlanta area at the end of September. He went into a “sub-acute rehabilitation facility” – code name for nursing home – to get “rehabilitated” at the beginning of October. The facility was supposed to get him strong enough where he could walk on a hemi-walker and function around our – and now his – home. Things took a turn, however, where his care began to decline and his condition began to deteriorate. My dad wasn’t himself anymore, not because of any depression or any cognitive failures (as the facility claimed). He wasn’t himself anymore because he was overmedicated.
I began to learn a lot about how our government and many nursing facilities do not care well for the elderly. My father experienced first-hand the lack of care common in nursing homes. I experienced the stress of not knowing what was really going on with him in the home. I discovered that Medicare benefits are limited, and if my dad needed further care beyond what Medicare pays for, he would have needed to qualify for Medicaid, which presents a whole set of more than just challenges and difficulties. To qualify for Medicaid he would have had to “spend down” the assets he has that can be liquidated before he could begin to get benefits, which means that essentially, he would have had to go broke, spending all of which he spent years working for, to get a measly benefit that guarantees him substandard care in a nursing home facility. What I’ve just described happens every day here in the great United States of America.
What I realize now is that I was completely unprepared for my father becoming ill to the point where he would need round the clock care. In fact, I would watch news reports of elder abuse in nursing homes, or reports of the difficulty of growing old, and not really see my father in that same position. Maybe I was in denial. Maybe I had always wanted to remember my dad as being the fun, independent person he always had been, and that desire to remember the good prevented me from seeing that anything could happen.
So if you have aging parents, please take steps to prepare for the possibility that your loved one could get ill, and you are responsible for caring for him or her. What are those steps? My husband, Manchild, discovered a wonderful blog, A Caregiver’s Journal, where Valerie posts about issues related to becoming a caregiver for a loved one. It’s a great blog, and Valerie provides so much great information about this so very important topic. She says, “One of the reasons I blog about caregiving is to encourage people to prepare in advance for their aging family members.”
I’d like to direct you to peruse the entire blog, but take a look especially at “Caregiving for Aging Parents Can Catch You Off Guard,” where Valerie gives us advice on how to prepare for this life changing event. It’s a great article, and provides a good place to start. Then go through the rest of the blog. Valerie talks about the issue from the perspective of one who is going through it. And she has taken the time (I don’t know how) to regularly share with her readers great tips and advice on how caregivers can provide care and take care of themselves as well. I’ve become an email subscriber so that I can get her posts as soon as they come out.
By the way, my father is doing much better because my husband, Manchild, is loving on my dad by staying at home with him during the day to rehabilitate my father to get him to a point where he can walk around the house and take care of himself (I realize this is not an option everyone can take). He said to me in December, “KWiz, let’s get him out of that facility. Let’s bring him home.” I am so grateful to him, and because of him so graciously and lovingly caring for my dad during the day (and during the night – it’s a 24-hour “job”), my father is no longer on the anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs the nursing home was giving him. He’s gained weight that he lost since he had the stroke. We’ve learned how to manage his diabetes where he’s down from taking four insulin shots to 1-2 shots. He’s actually down to taking only three prescription medications (not including his insulin) and vitamins. My dad has his good days as well as not so good. But overall, it’s worth having him at home. That’s my dad. He’s the only dad I will ever have.
Get ready, people! Take a look at The Caregiver’s Journal and get some tips on getting prepared to be a caregiver. Don’t get caught off guard!