My Dad is cranky. Okay, if I’m going to tell the truth, he has moments where he is downright mean. He gets easily agitated and has times of lucidity coupled with flashes where he doesn’t even know my name. It is frustrating, heartbreaking and exhausting, not only for myself – the adult daughter — but my whole family as well.
But it must be worse for him. Thirteen years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it turned his life and our lives upside down. Six years ago, right before my Mom died, I promised her I would never put him in an assisted living facility. She had kept him at home for five years prior and she was 75, so how hard could it be?
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was other than childbirth and raising a recalcitrant teenager, it’s the hardest thing I have ever done.
In the Beginning
The early years were easier. When Dad came to live with us it was an adjustment, but he was able to adapt to our family routine and we adjusted to his idiosyncrasies. Really … cutting your toenails and flossing your teeth in front of the den TV?
Since both my husband and I work full-time and my two kids are very active, Dad came with us to tennis matches, softball games, and family outings. Since Dad loves to do woodwork, we set up a shop in our garage so it would feel more like home to him. We brought his favorite Lazy Boy and bedroom furniture over from his former home, so he would have something comfortable and familiar.
He was able to stay by himself all day, with a neighbor bringing him lunch.
A Turn for the Worse
At first the changes were subtle. He would take a walk around the block and get lost. He became agitated more quickly. Although he hadn’t driven in many years, he found the car keys, and tried to back the car out of the garage without lifting the garage door. Oi vai! We knew it was time to get help with home care.
We hired a neighbor’s friend to take care of him, but then she moved. We hired a homecare agency, but the caregivers were unable to tolerate his moods and tantrums. Then finally a close friend of mind recommended FirstLight Home Care and it was truly a blessing. A male caregiver (Tim) came in four days a week from 8 to 5PM. I adjusted my work schedule to have Fridays off. Because FirstLight Home Care has a dementia care program, they developed a dementia plan and a schedule we all stuck to. The routine was definitely easier on my Dad and provided peace of mind for me.
I’ll be honest. Full-time home care is not cheap. However, because my Dad was a veteran, we received some assistance. My parents had lived modestly, so between their savings, my Dad’s social security check, his VA benefits and our salaries, we made it work. It was definitely the best alternative to a difficult situation.
One Year Later
My Dad passed away on April 20, 2012. This will be my first Father’s Day without him and I miss him terribly, even with all the upheavals. While you’re helping a parent with Alzheimer’s, you sometimes forget to stop and enjoy the lighter moments … the laughter and the little things like when my Dad picked the dandelions out of the yard and made me a flower bouquet. I even miss Tim, the family caregiver, because he quickly became a member of our family. His enthusiasm and caring was a bright spot in some difficult days.
Soon it will be time to disassemble my Dad’s woodworking shop. Even though I had plenty of time to prepare for his death, the end is just so final it breaks your heart. Growing up, my Dad called me “Sugar”. I would give anything to see one last wink, feel one last bear hug, and hear “have a great day sugar!”