Last time I wrote about trying to help my parents from afar, and finally having to go to help in person. It is hard to help from a distance. However, sometimes it is still overwhelming to help even when a parent lives in the same town.
After mom passed away, I brought dad to an assisted living facility (ALF) close to home. Still, I visit him almost every day. And when he has a medical emergency I either take him to the doctor or meet them at the hospital. I wake every morning afraid that I will be called to spend the day in the ER or the hospital or nursing home where he went after discharge before going back to the ALF.
I love that I can be there for him. But I can’t be the only one on the care team! My sister and brother are far enough away that I can’t just call and insist they take their turn with him. Yet, I want to be able to go away for a week or more without the worry of how he is doing. He gets lonely. He forgets where he is. He forgets where I am or even if I was there yesterday. Still, I know he notices when I am away a few days or more.
Over the summer I had to go to the family home and sort through mom’s things. I had to bring home the important papers, dad’s clothing, etc. And I had to donate much of what was left. I am nowhere near done going through the family home, but with my brother living there, it is difficult to do. Still, each time I was away from my home for a week I felt guilty that I was not at home near dad. I couldn’t be in both places and I knew I was asking too much of myself, but yet, I felt he needed me – or someone – to keep him from being lonely and confused.
Thus I decided it was time to put together a local care team. This team would supplement the care he gets from his ALF. At the ALF he is one of many residents. They take care of his basic needs – food, shelter, medications, etc. But, once he gets transferred to a hospital or nursing home, they aren’t able to ensure his continuing care. If I am at home, I do that. But suppose I was away for a week or more to look through the family homestead. Or even to take a small vacation? I really need a vacation but can’t relax until I build that backup support first.
I don’t want to sound as if I have been totally abandoned by my family, because several of my children live nearby. But they work all day during the week and dad is asleep by the time they get home from work. At best, they can (and do) visit him on a weekend day.
I had friends who had local companions to help a parent dress or get out for lunch on a weekday. This local companion came almost daily for one friend and weekly or less frequently for another. I could see it was a help to have someone else to count on. Maybe I could develop a care team to help while I am away and to help even when I am at home during the week so I can take part in other community activities without leaving dad alone for several days in a row. I felt totally burned out after his stay in the hospital followed by his stay in the nursing home. By the time his life got “back to normal” I was a mental mess!
I spoke to several friends who either had family caregivers or knew of some in their professional fields. I asked for recommendations. After learning of some possible caregivers, I called them and asked for a meeting. We met and talked about what they might do for dad. They can visit and mentally stimulate him. Some have experience with dementia in the elderly. Another is a retired nurse. Together they form what I call my local care team. I gave them each other’s email and contact information as well, so in a crunch, they could get assistance from another member of the care team.
This is not a new concept but it was new to me on the local level. I had worked to build up a network of caregivers for mom and dad when they lived far away. I thought I wouldn’t need such a network locally but found it is always helpful to have backup. I went away for a week and several care team members went to visit dad. They called or emailed to tell me how dad was doing when they visited him. One called me from his room so he could talk to me too. I also called him at other times, but he always seems to be asleep (and then groggy when he answered the phone) when we talked. The companion was able to engage him in conversation first and then have him call me when he was alert. So far this care team has worked well for me. I know I will be expanding on this concept as dad’s needs change. But in the meantime, I no longer feel like I have to be supermom taking care of my dad, my family and myself.