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Caregiving Stories from Nurse Gina – Personal stories of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease from the perspective of a Certified Dementia Practitioner

Gina Kaurich

In addition to being a Registered Nurse and Certified Dementia Practitioner, Gina Kaurich (above) is also a caregiver of her mother-in-law.

You would think by now I would be accustom to the depersonalization of the hospital system. After all, I have been a Registered Nurse since 1973 and worked as a candy striper starting in junior high. But I continue to be faced with generalizations when it comes to some of the medical community working with people. It saddens me for those who do not have the knowledge to make decisions, often very tough decisions regarding their loved ones, on their own.

Recently, I have had the challenge of caring for my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease. This is not the first time for this situation; as I cared for my aunt and a mother-in-law from my first marriage as well.  Both of these individuals succumbed to this terrible disease and much to my chagrin lost their battle in a nursing home setting. Thus this time we are doing everything possible to keep Martha, my current mother-in-law, at home. My sister-in-law and her husband share care with my husband and me giving both families respite time without the pressures Martha’s disease creates in daily living.

Just imagine trying to answer the repetitive question of “When are you taking me home?” which she sometimes asks every minute, without becoming agitated. Or, her refusals to take a shower or brush her teeth no matter what diversion techniques are used. Naturally, the work from home husbands do not want to be involved in the resistant bathing ritual, so we have a caregiver from FirstLight Home Care help Martha with these activities of daily living. After all, she still has her dignity and we want to help her feel good for as long as possible.

Alzheimer’s affects people in different ways and their behaviors change over time. Martha still has good times when she helps me fix our favorite homemade chicken salad, folds her clothes and puts them away or when we look at the photo albums of her family. We try to keep her moving and walking as much as possible; however, she is becoming more fragile and unable to endure even short walks outside. The other day her legs simply went out from under her and she collapsed to the floor. We called the paramedics who took her to the emergency room. When we arrived the doctor immediately suggested she needed to go into long-term care. We told him that as a family, we were not ready for that and believe we can continue to care for her at home since this was the one and only request she had of us prior to her illness.

Here is where the generalization comes in to play. The doctor and hospital staff did not take the time to ask the right questions or determine the wishes of the family. They did not have lab tests, EKG or even know what medications she was taking. They jumped to the conclusion that because she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease she needs to be taken out of her loving families home and institutionalized. I adamantly disagree….and made this very clear to the doctor! After much discussion it was decided to admit her and determine the cause for her weakness, which turned out to be dehydration.

She will spend some time in a Rehabilitation facility to get physical and occupational therapy. After she comes home she may continue to need these services; but I believe this is what is best for her. What I want everyone to know is to not necessarily take someones word as the ultimate answer just because they work in the medical field. Look at your loved one. Be their advocate. Help the rest of their life be as purposeful as it can be and know there are options and alternatives out there for care.

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