Caring for Our Elderly Parents Til “Death Does Them Part”

by Kaye Swain

The New Old Age section of the New York Times online, with news for seniors and senior caregivers, has been a favorite eldercare resource of mine for years, long before they won the SeniorHomes.com Best of the Web 2011 for Senior Living Blogs. Every time I visit, I discover interesting articles, great comments, and terrific food for thought to help us as we stay busy dealing with the Sandwich Generation issues of caring for the elderly parents in our families, along with caring for kids, babysitting grandchildren, etc. And today was no exception.

They have a very interesting article, In Sickness and In Health, written by Paula Span, covering the topic of a healthy spouse coupled with a spouse whose health is deteriorating. My senior parents and I dealt with that situation in a variety of ways for over 20 years , due to my dad's Parkinsons Disease, so I was especially interested as I read the article. It definitely gives some interesting insights into a couple of different families and their situations.

At first, when my my dad was in the early stages of Parkinsons Disease, he and my mom were able to handle all the necessary caregiving, which wasn't much.  As the Parkinsons disease progressed, they reached a point where they knew they needed some extra support. At that point they moved cross country to buy a home in a retirement community within ten minutes of my home. With high quality exercise equipment easily available in their community, and me nearby to help as needed, they were able to continue being primarily independent for several more years.

As his health deteriorated, I became more and more involved, driving them on errands, taking them to doctor appointments, and spending more time with them at home as well, to help as needed. Still, they were mostly independent and we were all happy about that. 

As he progressed to the end stage of his Parkinsons Disease, the time finally came for them to need quite a bit more help. In June, they moved into my master bedroom, which I turned into a cozy apartment for them, complete with a mini refrigerator and their own couch and beds. That way, they could be part of the whole family when they wanted, but the could also retire to their own suite when they needed more peace, quiet, and privacy. When he got even worse and our family was grief-stricken to find he had to enter the hospice program, it was a blessing that they were already settled in with us and we didn't have to move them. 

Sadly, due to some medication he was taking, he went from a sweet, rational father to an angry stranger struggling with dementia symptoms. At that point, we did look into a nursing home for him, while my mom would have stayed with me. We were so grateful for the hospice medical team who kept working with us and were able to find the right combination of medications that brought him back almost to his normal self and enabled him to stay in our home for the last few weeks here on earth.

It wasn't the easiest time in my life but God kept us "keeping on." We were blessed by help and support from other family and friends as we dealt with all the different situations including grief along with hospice issues, and I was so glad my parents could stay together until "death did them part."  

Over the years, some members of our family have made good use of the C.C.R.C.'s mentioned in the article, while others went the traditional nursing home route, with plenty of visits. As with so many other situations in life, there is no "one size fits all" solution to caring for the elderly parents and relatives in our family as their health deteriorates. All we can do is do our best as we trust in God to lead us along the way.  How about you? What direction are you going in?

Kaye

P.S. Thank you so much for your comments. I enjoy them very much and read each one. I also love the grand ideas so many of you share that help and encourage other readers. Thank you.