Thursday, August 15, 2013

When an Elderly Parent “Digs In”

Picture via

This summer has been something else. I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been able to spend quite a bit of time with my parents this summer (ages 84 and 85) and much of that was when I “chaperoned” my parents on a cross country motor coach trip. At some point, I’ll do a post on that (it was a lot of fun and very, very personally rewarding) but right now, I want to chat about a health problem that my mom developed on that trip and how it has impacted all of our lives. Fair warning, though. As you read this, some of you will nod your heads in agreement as if to say, “I know what that’s like” and some of you may either be dumbfounded that it’s happening (or in denial that it can actually happen to your family) or downright pissed off that my family isn’t dealing with it better.

We were gone for almost five weeks, taking a leisurely trip across the southern and southwest part of the US. A little over a week after we left, the three of us plus the dog arrived in San Diego, near where my oldest brother lives. It was a wonderfully festive time for the family as the old guard welcomed the new (great grandchildren who had never been met as well as two new fiancées who would be officially joining the family next year).  During that part of the trip, my mother had two seizures.

Seizure Picture via

I saw the first one out of the corner of my eye and didn’t realize it was a seizure until later that day. She was eating breakfast and seemed to tremble and spill her orange juice. It looked like she lost her balance was sitting at the table. Mom said she was fine and we went about our day. The second one happened at lunch with friends who graduated from college with my Dad over sixty years ago. As Mom ate her lunch, her body shook uncontrollably and she lost consciousness for only a minute. Then she was lucid and embarrassed but insisted she was “fine.” Instead of taking her back to the coach, I took Mom to a well known hospital in San Diego while my oldest brother picked Dad up at the ER. Mom and I were there for about nine hours and she was eventually admitted and observed overnight.  Although many tests were done (blood tests, MRI. EEG. EKG), “they” could find nothing wrong. So on our way we went with a prescription for an anti seizure med.

By that time, we were on our way home and slowly making our way across the country. We stopped in Phoenix and had plans to go to Jerome, Albuquerque and Tombstone. While in Phoenix, she had another seizure, this time, much more violent, and fell, hitting her head on the floor. This time paramedics were called and she was taken to yet another hospital. The only bright spot of this whole part of the trip was seeing my 85 year old mother flirting with the cute EMTs (and having them flirt right back)! Once again, tests were taken and experts consulted. We left we a higher dose of anti seizure medicine and I picked a new route to get us back sooner than we had planned.

This happened two more times. Knowing that neither parent would take the proper steps unless a doctor insisted upon it and despite my asking at every hospital we visited, it wasn’t until we were at the hospital in Benson, AZ that the wonderful Dr. Huerta told me, “Get your Mom on an airplane back to Virginia tomorrow.” So I did.


That’s really when all the trouble began. Dad promised that when we got home, he would hire a caregiver to help her with her hygiene and personal care, another person to stay with her and keep her company every day (he agreed to never leave her alone in case of another seizure) and would do everything needed to make Mom’s life easy and enjoyable. On the airplane, Mom had another seizure and despite the efforts of every family member and medical professional we had seen to date, both my mother and father have absolutely refused to alter their lifestyle in any way to get my mother the proper care at home. Having spent so many weeks with both of my parents, I knew that Mom had no business cooking meals (I did that on the trip), cleaning (ditto), washing clothes, or even bathing by herself. It was a battle getting her to take her medicine every day and she began losing weight like crazy. Without the proper monitoring of her diet and someone to encourage her to eat, it will be a struggle to keep her weight from going any lower (she’s lost over forty pounds in the last year without really even trying). And I know that since she’s been home, she’s not been taking her pills properly (Dad isn’t making sure that happens despite the pills being portioned out in day of the week containers) and she’s had several more seizures.

It’s frustrating when we call home and we learn that Mom has been left alone while Dad is in town or at another part of their property. When I ask him about it, Dad immediately jumps down my throat to the point that I have to remind him that no one speaks to me that way and if he doesn’t stop, I will leave immediately (or end the telephone conversation). My younger brother gets the same treatment. Our next oldest brother, who lives in the same town as my parents, has disappeared because he can’t bear the thought of losing either one of them. Avoidance is the best defense, I guess. Meanwhile, Mom is not getting her meds properly, neither parent is eating properly and both of them are one fall away from a forced lifestyle change. Once that happens, they will no longer have the luxury of deciding how they will live the rest of their years.

Picture via

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this situation and trying to figure out a solution. Many people have told me that it will take something “catastrophic” to get Dad (and Mom to some extent) to do what’s needed. The good news is that Mom wants to live in an assisted living facility. The bad news is that she won’t go without Dad and he’s already made it abundantly clear that he’s not leaving his home unless he’s dead. Money is not the issue. There’s more than enough of that. I believe that my Dad, on some level, mourns the life he’s lived for the past eighty-four years and this in denial about the care that he needs. As far as his eighty-five year wife, who suffers from dementia and a seizure disorder, is concerned, he doesn’t seem to be able to get his mind around the fact that she needs more care than when they married sixty-three years ago.

So, that’s where we are. It’s not really a place where I thought we’d be as a family. Mom and Dad have, up to this point, done everything “right” with regard to their retirement and healthcare. All we want for them is to have the proper care in their home. Hopefully, we’ll be able to convince them it’s time to accept help. Without that, I worry about their futures. The child eventually becomes the parent; the parent becomes the child.

Photo via