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Posted: March 25, 2004

"How I Cope"

Adult Day Care is the Answer, But How to Arrive at the Answer!

After giving up my career as a television executive to take care of my elderly parents -- and get control over my extremely rebellious father -- I was urged to enroll my parents in an adult day care program. ?AduIt Day Care? -- I had absolutely no idea what that was. Maybe a glorified nursing home? I soon would find out.

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Even though my parents were still together after 58 years of marriage and continued to live in their own home with full-time care, I didn't realize they needed much more daily stimulation. At home, they would want to sleep all day, and then my father would be up all night wreaking havoc, making everyone miserable.

The Alzheimer's Association helped me understand how important it was to give them something to do outside of lying in bed 23 hours a day just ?waiting to die.? OK, but how in the world was I going to get them to consent to go there?

My father fought me about it for weeks, yelling that he would not go. ?NO! Nooope! Not going! Just forget it!? he?d say. To make his point, he refused to take a shower or change his filthy coveralls for more than a week.

I insisted repeatedly that they go and finally got my parents there for their first day. My mother loved it, but my father was completely repulsed and tried to sabotage it. The day care staff kept trying to separate them because he wouldn?t leave her alone, holding on to her too tight and touching her inappropriately. Then, he threw his lunch on the floor in a raging top-of-his-lungs temper tantrum. They still wouldn?t let him be with Mom, so he went into the bathroom and tried to escape out the window. When he couldn?t get out, he came out of the restroom with his coveralls unzipped to expose himself, then he even messed in his own pants. He threw another swearing temper tantrum when they made him sit away from everyone because he smelled so bad.

Was I Ready for This?

Four hours later, when I arrived to pick them up, the social workers were completely exhausted and fed up with my Dad, saying that he could not return because he was so disruptive.

Well, it took months -- and it was no small feat -- but with lots of trail and error, we finally got my father to accept the routine of going to adult day care. No one was more surprised than I when my parents became such shining success stories, progressing dramatically in their behavior and strength. They became better than they?d been in many years, and they would sleep peacefully through the night, which was a blessing for everyone. The morning brought daily excitement to see the shuttle and their favorite driver pick them up to go see all their friends. They finally had someplace to go, friends to see, and fun activities to do.

If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now

What I didn?t understand before this experience was that any kind of change can be terribly frightening for elders. Had the day care staff taken a little extra time to help me know what to do and coach me how to do it, we could have made a very difficult, scary transition happen with a lot less aggravation.

First, I'd have Mary, the social worker, call my father a few times and develop a relationship with him over the phone. Then I'd have her "drop in" to say hello because she was "in the neighborhood." Then, after taking my parents out to a relaxing lunch, I'd casually drive by the day care center and say, "Oh, look where we are! Why don't we drop in and say hello to that nice gal, Mary, who was so sweet to stop by the other day?"

I'd have an appointment already set up so we could take a tour and meet the rest of the staff and other seniors. Then, a few days later, I'd go with my parents to lunch at the center and help the social workers make them feel comfortable. I?d go with them as many times as needed until Dad felt safe.

Yes, a gradual transition would have saved us all a lot of heartache!

Adult day care administrators and social workers can make a huge difference to first-time caregiving adult children and spouses who are unaware of how to handle all the eldercare issues they face. Had I been told that all the activities would tire my parents during the day so they'd sleep through the night, I'd have tried to get them to day care much sooner. It seems obvious to me now, but at the time it just didn't occur to me.

Now I tell everyone who struggles with managing their elderly loved ones about the tremendous value of adult day care. I smile each time I hear the same reluctant response: ?They would never go there, Jacqueline.? With a little extra effort from caregiving professionals, who can so easily educate and comfort, a significant difference can be made in the lives of the elderly patients -- as well as their overwhelmed caregivers.

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Jacqueline Marcell is a former television executive, who after the experience of caring for her elderly parents became an author, publisher, radio host, national speaker, and advocate for eldercare awareness and reform. She is the author of Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please! How to Survive Caring For Aging Parents, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and can be reached at j.marcell@cox.net

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