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Posted: October 15, 2007

Practical Caregiving

Tuning in to the Changes in Loved Ones' Lives

Last week, an elderly couple I’ll call Joe and Mary got lost in the building where I work. They didn’t wait for their friend to pick them up and wandered off. We were afraid of what might happen to Joe and Mary. The world today isn’t like it was 50 years ago.

After an hour of searching, we called the police. Joe and Mary were located, but their experience could have turned bad. Someone they didn’t know picked them up and took them to a grocery store, but then they drove away thinking the couple was okay.

Joe and Mary wanted to go home, so they started wandering again. The friend who was going to pick them up I’ll call her Wanda -- had known Joe and Mary for about 50 years and naturally thought they would wait for her to pick them up. They had always waited. She knew their minds were slipping, but Wanda was in denial of how badly they actually had deteriorated. Wanda was frantically driving around the area when she found them. They were sitting on a ledge of some sort, resting.

When Mom started having TIA’s (mini strokes), none of us understood what was happening. She would stand at the sink washing dishes and suddenly black out and slump to the floor. It didn’t happen every day, but after a couple months she was still having them.

I tried to get Dad to take her to the doctor when they first started happening, but he was in denial. Mom had always had allergies that caused her to have strange problems, and he decided that was the problem now. He didn’t consider the fact that new medicines made it so she hadn’t had those problems for many years. He didn’t want her to have serious problems, of course. He wanted things to go on the way they had for years both of them in good health. He had trouble facing the reality of Mom having serious problems that might be the start of the end of her life as he had known her.

When he finally took her to the doctor, we understood the doctor to say she was having tiny strokes that wouldn’t cause any lasting damage. But that wasn’t the situation; they had already caused some damage. She had trouble remembering things. She would start a sentence only to forget what she was saying.

When a loved one has serious health problems, their mind doesn’t always work like it has all their life. Even a high temperature will make it so they don’t think very well. We, their family and friends who are caring for them, have trouble facing their problems. We see them as they were yesterday, but we don’t always see them as they are today. We depend on them doing what they have done all their life.

The trouble is we really can’t depend on them doing what they have always done. Just because we want things to be the way they have always been doesn’t mean they are that way. We, the family caregiver, have problems we must think about and try to counteract. We have problems with our own feelings. We don’t want our loved one to be ill or get worse. We all have problems with denial.

Could it be possible that denial is one of the reasons for the various family problems we are having? Is this the reason our sister won’t visit? She doesn’t want to think our loved one will die for several years, even though their health is deteriorating fast? What about you and me? Our loved one still uses the same expressions on their face. Many times our loved one has the same voice. Their eyes are the same color. We can still see the person we have always known. But, they may not be the same, adult person that can make reasonable decisions. They may be having trouble thinking. They may not have that trouble all the time.

It all may come and go. But, we need to face the fact of what is happening in order to prevent the types of further problems that can occur. We don’t want them to wander off. We don’t want to overlook a health problem. We don’t want our feelings to interfere with their care -- and it can.

Please stop to consider your feelings and whether they are interfering with your loved one’s care. Are you sure your loved one can do what you ask them to do? Are you sure they will take their medicine as prescribed? Are you sure they can make it to the store a block away without getting lost?

Evaluate every aspect of their life and take care to make sure you aren’t overlooking something. Denial can cause you to overlook something important, and I know that’s not what you want. You do love them enough to see that they are taken care of. You do love them enough, whether they are in their home, in your home, in assisted living or in a nursing home. Take the time to put your feelings aside when you are considering their care. It isn’t the easiest thing to do, but you will be glad you did.

© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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