When my mom’s dementia began to wreck her quality of life, our family reacted as quickly as we could to resolve the crisis. But it was a bit like having a baby without the nine months of preparation. One night she was weeping because her kitchen sink was leaking and a week later I moved her into my house. Every decision was fueled by worry and adrenaline.
Though I desperately wanted to take good care of her, I was also running a freelance writing business. When you have your own business, you have more freedom to decide when and where you work. But contrary to popular illusions, YOU WORK ALMOST NON-STOP! Most people who write at home keep strict rules about how they organize their efforts. It’s too easy to get distracted if you don’t stick to a schedule and most of us are writing for several bosses at once. The sudden arrival of my distraught mother upset all my work habits and brought the added the stress of keeping her occupied.
During the first weeks of our experiment, I gave her projects like hanging laundry on the line and organizing donation items for Haitian earthquake victims. But my mom could not remember instructions for more than two minutes. She would ask me how to do something, walk into the kitchen, and return a minute later to ask for the millionth time where those blankets should go. Meanwhile, my commas and periods were not getting the attention they needed.
Although I felt guilty, some days I’d drive her to the Senior Center and leave her there for a few hours while I hustled to meet a deadline. But more often, I’d stop and take her for a walk by the pond. The sight of water and steadfast fishermen was one thing that calmed us both.
Eventually the people at the Senior Center told me that although she was welcome there, she would be better served by an Adult Day program. I had never heard of this kind of program and didn’t know how they could help my mom whose dementia was advancing faster than we could respond.
When I finally found the Adult Day Care Center in Palmerton, it brought enormous relief to both of us. Staff members there are kind and highly skilled. The place gives off a strong family vibe and the atmosphere exudes compassion. The first day I left her there, I cried like a parent whose child just started kindergarten. Today the only weeping Palmerton inspires is the occasional tear of joy when I realize how lucky we are to have access to such a good place.
I wish it had been easier for us to figure out how to help my mother. Every decision we made was either random or driven by an off-hand suggestion from a stranger. Since we began this journey a year ago, I’ve done a lot of research on services for the elderly — especially those who suffer from dementia. Some regional resources can be found in this link to my recent article in Carbon County Magazine. Upcoming posts will feature information from state and national experts who may offer insight to families in other places. Like most mazes, you can enter the puzzle of elder care at many different points. But we could all use some kind of compass to guide our choices as we proceed.