Friday, December 14, 2018

Caring For the Elderly

As I have adjusted to moving to my parent's home in Big Flats, New York, I have come to a greater understanding of why it is essential to care for elderly as they wane from life.

They deserve to be independent and make their own decisions as long as possible.

After all their long years of sacrifice, it's time for them to be comfortable and worry free.

I've seen my step-mom (who married my dad nearly 40 years ago) care for her own two children, my 5 younger siblings, her mother, her step father, her sister and numerous grandchildren. She set the example for us to follow.

Mom still toddles around the house, letting the dog out, fixing herself peanut butter toast, watching Law and Order, keeping her own hours - some days up early and some days not. She misses Dad, who has been gone for almost 2 years, desperately, and I can only imagine how hollow her life would be if she were not able to walk through the house they designed and remodeled together and feel that once in a lifetime love she feels for him.

Mom wants to stay in her home...and as long as she can we kids should strive to make that possible. Always so independent in life, she doesn't believe she needs people here, but she does.

First and foremost for safety.  The elderly have been living as independent adults for upwards of 60 years. They don't see the dangers of living alone with progressive heath deterioration. They often like to age the way they lived...they tackle problems as they come. But problems usually come as a surprise.

When I was visiting over a year ago Mom fell and was on her bedroom floor for who knows how long. When she was taken to the hospital she was admitted for a UTI and stayed there for more than three weeks. That was one of the experiences that helped me make the decision to move in. One sibling who lives close by was coming every day to check on her but it was just not enough, as she works full time and has her own family to care for. We didn't want Mom to have an accident and then suffer waiting for someone to come by.  My sibling was worried night and day. Mom has always been so independent and has had a hard time asking for help....and now with the added malady of dementia she often doesn't think about help..only how she can get herself out of a bind.

Secondly for companionship. The Elderly sometimes feel that their younger family members are too busy with their own lives and forget about them. Sometimes this is true. But, I had promised my dad before he passed that we children would take care of her.

No one else was able to or chose to move in with her. I left my job and sold my home in another state to make sure she would not be alone any more. Difficult as it was, I regret nothing and would make that decision again. I am fulfilling the promise I made to Dad. I knew he was waiting for me to step up and keep that promise.

I follow the lead of my youngest sister who has been caring for her daily for over a year. We visit and talk silly nonsense to her, make her smile and let her know she is loved. We plan family meals and gather around the dinner table catching up and laughing. Always laughing.

Thirdly for the pets. Would any person want to move from their beloved home and NOT take their beloved animals? Animals provide constant, unrivaled companionship for persons living alone. Every day when Mom gets up she greets her dog, leans to kiss her and says, "I love you, you know that?" Saying I love you to someone, even an animal is a cathartic release representative of the love we all carry inside of us. It needs to be expressed.

And Buttons eats it up. She keeps Mom warm by sleeping on her lap. She keeps Mom engaged with by barking her little heart out at neighborhood noises and visiting cats. She keeps Mom active by asking to be let in and out of the house. Buttons is perfect. I firmly believe Mom would die without her dog.

Fourth, for long term memory.  Being in familiar surroundings keeps her where she was when she started losing her memory. There are many forms of dementia, but when a person gets to stay in their own home it helps them to stay connected to their past and live in the present. Her long term memory still functions; her familiar Fenton Milk Glass Collection, powder blue curtains, myriad silk florals and her family pictures surround her with comfort that dates back over half a century.

Mom now gets be treated like the clan queen she is. My siblings and I cook, clean, take her to appointments and out to restaurants. We pay the bills, maintain the house, yard and vehicles. We monitor her medical conditions and consult with her physicians. We see to her needs and comfort. She trusts us to care for her. She loves us.

As life begins, so it ends: when we are young, our parents care for us, and when they are old, we in turn care for them. What an amazing blessing to participate and celebrate the great circle of life! Consider caregiving for your elders. If you can't, then do as much as you can to stay engaged in their lives. They may not remember visits, conversations, presents or names, but they will remember the love they feel when you reach out to them.

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