April 9, 2009 in Washington Voices

Krogh: Despite the need, it still feels like betrayal

Darin Z. Krogh
 

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Maybe you have been one of the unfortunate adult children who have had to consider moving your parent to a care facility against their will. Or, maybe you will be in that boat someday.

You can read up on doing the dirty deed, get advice from others who have done it or even watch it being done by others. Nothing will prepare you sufficiently for the task. Parents are all different. Moods are different. Relationships are different.

A month ago, my sister and I gave our mother a ride to an Alzheimer’s care facility from which she will never leave. Not alive anyway.

Both of us thought we were ready for the big terrible day. This was a long time coming. A couple of years ago, our mother, a bird of some toughness, beat the hospice status assigned to her by trained medical doctors, “She could live a few days, maybe a few weeks. It could even go on for a few months.” She is still going after a few years.

Although her mind has suffered considerable slippage, she was sufficiently aware to take some pride in surviving hospice. “I showed them,” she proclaimed.

But as her body recovered, her mind went south.

Mother was taken to a neurologist and given a diagnosis of severe Alzheimer’s. We did not need the doctor’s diagnosis. We had figured it out, but the confirmation was useful. Our family discovered that a professional diagnosis was needed for admission to many Alzheimer care facilities.

There is a great range in care-facility quality and price. Fortunatel, our mother had sufficient funds to give us a wide range of choices.

If funding is low or limited, things get much harder. Quality is not the only consideration in choosing a care facility. A couple of our friends had to sell all their mother’s assets in order to qualify them for financial assistance for some rather mediocre care in distant facilities.

We did not want to lie to our mother about where we were taking her. But, in the end, we did. Just a little bit. As we drove Mom to the Alzheimer’s care facility, she asked several times, “Where are we going?”

My sister and I took turns comforting her with the same agreed-upon response, “You are going in for some tests. When you get better, then you can come back home.” Severe Alzheimer’s does not get better.

She rarely asks to go home. Mother knows that she has lots of problems, some of which frighten her.

What she does ask for is our father. He goes to the care facility every day. He eats meals with her and nods off with her as she naps. He was the other casualty in the ravaging of our mother’s mind by that pernicious disease.

One elderly infirm parent can be brought down physically and mentally by trying to care for their lifelong mate. Our parents made a pact not to allow each other to be committed to a “nursing home.”

However, our father was going to be in his grave sooner than our mother if he did not renege on that promise. Mother needed constant watching, even during the night, lest she harm herself or take a midnight stroll in the neighborhood. Her watchful husband only got sporadic catnaps.

Mother’s dietary, medicinal and hygienic concerns became too much for our father, even with paid care assistants coming into their home. My nearby siblings and in-laws helped more than those of us who lived hundreds of miles away. But this was literally killing our father.

So the deed was done with his reluctant permission. He could not stomach the actual commitment. We sent him out to tell stories with an old friend.

One slight advantage in committing an Alzheimer’s patient over other aged folks who require a full-care facility: The Alzheimer’s parent does not hold a grudge for your part in taking them from their home and placing them in a care facility. They cannot remember how they got there or who did this to them. But they do have a sense that they have been wronged.

I cannot imagine the sadness and guilt carried by a child when the parent knows who put them in the facility and reminds that person of the betrayal. Because that is what it feels like for both parent and child, a betrayal.

It is too soon after the deed for me to know if that feeling goes away.

Read more of Darin Krogh’s stories at hillyardbay.com.


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