babyboomer caregiver – the beginning

Posted in Uncategorized  by: admin
March 28th, 2011

Building a strong realtionship with my grandchildren has always been a rewarding and challenging part of my life.  It has kept me active and young.  Now I am facing a challenge that has become a reality for many people my age.  I am the caregiver for my 86 year old mother-in-law.  She is still residing in her own home which fortunately is next door to us.  My father-in-law died 14 years earlier and my husband and I were concerned that his mother would not be able to cope on her own.  In order to remain independent she would have to learn where the circuit breakers were, how to pump gas into her car, how to balance the check book and budget  her money and most importantly how to live alone.  They had been married for 52 years.  Each morning my husband would walk to his mother’s and have coffee with her just as he did when his Dad was alive.  The continuity of this small action gave her a reason to get  out of bed, comb her hair and put on a little lipstick.  With great patience, he explained  her finances to her and taught her to watch her stocks. Once or twice a week we would have dinner with her, either at her home (she was always a good cook) or at ours or at one of her favorite restaurants. We also took this opportunity to invite each of our grandchildren to have dinner with us so Mom could get to know them as individuals and they in turn would get to know her. For the next 10 years she continued to play golf, have lunch with her friends and visit with her family.  When the dementia (or alzheimers – a disease that is hard to diagnose) began to take over, it was time for some adjustments.  This is the tricky part of life – when the parent becomes the child and the child the caregiver.  I am going to write this story in several parts in the hope that our experience will help others cope with this role reversal and  so my children will have a blue print to follow when it is their time to be  caregivers.

Part I – Facing the reality of dementia.

My own parents died when I was in my early twenties.  I never watched them grow old nor become dependent upon their children.  Maybe this made it easier for me to see the decline in my mother-in-law and to suggest that her children start thinking about long term care.  Families are funny things.  Whether it was denial or selfishness or apathy, it soon became clear that if she was going to continue to live a comfortable life in her own home the responsibility would fall to my husband and me.  I will preface this story by saying I was not my mother-in-law’s favorite person. I never asked her if I could call her Mom, I just started doing it.  She never volunteered to babysit nor to teach me all her Italian recipes. When she did give me one she invariably left out one important ingredient. She made “suggestions” about my housekeeping and my appearance. However, she was stll my husband’s mother and my childrens only grandparent.  I have always subscribed to the theory that life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

In the beginning the signs were very small. She got lost coming home from the grocery store she had shopped at for 20 years.  She couldn’t find money she had hidden in her house. She began mixing up her childrens’ names although if that were a true sign, I’m in trouble. She was often confused about bills that came in the mail. One day she was lost for four hours. She laughed about it that night saying “it’s a good thing I saw the name of our town on a sign pointing this way.” My husband was reluctant to tell her she needed to stop driving until she drove across our yard instead of the driveway one evening. It was actually a pretty easy discussion and I think she had scared herself enough that she agreed to “stop driving for awhile.”  We left the car in her garage for two years and although she had no keys, she felt comfortable knowing it was there.  Every now and then  I would drive  her car to  doctors’ appointments to “keep it in running order”.  I think it made her feel good to ride in her own car.  When her phsyical health started to deteriorate along with her mental health we faced a whole new set of problems.

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