What To Do For Dad – Age 95?
I hesitated writing this blog, or essay. Though my blog is titled Hot Flashes due to the hot thoughts going through my mind at the time; and today’s topic has taken up my ENTIRE BRAIN for the last several weeks, it is painful to discuss.
To those who say how lucky I am to have my 95 year old dad and what a blessing it is, I would agree with you. However, those not in the know would never understand the 100 pound weight on my shoulders to make sure he is okay daily and also getting the care he needs. No one ever worries about the main caretaker or the stress they are put under. It’s never even a thought. I have tried my best for a long time as his self care deteriorated, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is never enough care when you love someone but you do the best you can.
We have been quite lucky as he has been mentally sharp until his 95th year rolled around. At the beginning of 2022, I saw confusion in him where I had never seen it before – sometimes expressed verbally by him, and sometimes in his non-comprehension of something. I also saw fear, and then delusions in the evening time, around dusk on many days. I saw paranoia about dying even though he was basically healthy – or as healthy as he could be with medications and his age.
Reading quite a bit about the aging process, I knew what this signaled, yet I was trying to stay in denial, as my dad was insistent on keeping his apartment in an independent living place. What many might not know is that I made sure he had various care-givers to keep him there and cared for appropriately, as I still work full time and so does every member of my immediate family. Having him there meant a lot of checking up and a lot of care arrangements as well as visits there.
Denial is ALWAYS the first response. But still, my kids noticed when Dad attended our family occasions that his functioning was much lower. No denying that information as I saw it myself. Here’s a photo of his joy celebrating his 95th at my house, but I am not showing the photo my son took next of Dad laying his head down on the table for the remainder of the occasion.
After I returned from a vacation, having already started looking at increasing the level of his care-giving, several events occurred that forced my hand into a radical change. In one of dad’s delusions, he started saying with some regularity and then not remembering saying it the next day, “Help me, I am dying.” This occurred when fear took over. Sometimes it was when he experienced any type of discomfort or even when he had to use the restroom. His rounds of doctor visits increased as his care-givers worried about him but he always checked out okay. The nurse at his doctor’s office though, felt it was time for a nursing home, and I expressed that frankly to Dad. He would not hear of it.
Next, Dad decided to check himself into the hospital, even though he was supposed to call me first in case we could see his doctor. He called an ambulance to scoop him up.
His own cardiologist and internist had already done all the testing, and Dad was actually physically okay, but needed to walk more to circulate his blood and oxygen. He had home health care, and he refused to cooperate just prior to this to help him and he was thinking the hospital would give him (unneeded) oxygen and that wheelchair he so desired so he did not have to walk. His cardiologist was so insistent on NOT putting him in a wheelchair as he needs to walk a bit each day and I tried to explain this to Dad.
At any rate, in the hospital, they did all the same testing rather than requesting his medical files. I could have intervened, but I let them do this so he would be reassured. The doctor called me to tell me Dad was absolutely fine and was being released the very next day after all tests turned out fine.
I begged the doctor to send Dad to rehabilitation, rather than home so that he could get his strength back, and start walking and using his oxygen. My plea worked. He spent two weeks in rehab, which was the most they could justify given his non-need.
During this stay, he would call me and scream at me to get him out. He would call me names. This was completely not my Dad as I knew him. I spoke to the rehab doctor about his confusion and strange behavior, and the doctor said the nurses observed some “Sundowners” behavior. (Sundowners is a phenomenon causing extreme agitation and anger in demented individuals, usually around sundown.) A psychiatric review was ordered.
The diagnosis was the beginning of dementia. Dad is losing that sharp mind he was known for at the age of 95. I knew it but I did not WANT to know it. Yet there it was forcing my hand.
With Dad lasting until 95 with a clear mind, and his personality and humor intact, I am grateful. Yet, I was scared about what would come next. Due to the doctor’s advice, and my own reckoning about this situation, a nursing home was the only option. Where to even begin, I thought, as my first choice for nursing home no longer offers memory care. Cost was an issue as well, as Dad had no long term care policy. Medicaid is only an option when he ran out of funds, but Medicaid places can be so depressing.
After researching with passion and total clarity on what Dad needed, I found a lovely place that is a “memory community.” They do not call themselves a nursing home. It looks more like assisted living, but it offers full time care taking and assistance. There is a full range of daily activities including poker games (Dad is passionate about playing poker) and music programs (he loves music beyond all) and best of all, they get all the Astros games. The hospital did not offer that and it made Dad miserable to miss baseball season.
Best, it is somewhat affordable and close to home. It is private pay only, which is why it is so nice. When the funds run out, a new facility will be necessary, but I have to cross that bridge when I get to it. Who knows how long Dad will last with his mind slowly going?
I spent the last two weeks sweating bullets until he was approved for admission after a formal assessment, and then began the arduous process of clearing out his apartment, donating his furniture to Afghan refugees, and getting him packed to move into the new place to coincide with his hospital release. You can’t imagine the arrangements and work involved, but I got it all done.
When Dad was accepted, despite all the work involved, I felt that 100 pound weight of responsibility for him and his care falling off my shoulders. I could breathe and sleep again.
There comes a point I guess where no amount of care outside of 24/7 in a facility equipped to do that will be the only option for an elderly person. Though we tried to avoid that, the time has come and he will receive that in a wonderful new place. It is a comforting feeling and I am hopeful he will adjust well.
The next worry was telling Dad as he is still MOSTLY lucid. He loves his independent living place, his friends there, his caretakers etc. It would be a hard sell to tell him he was going to a nursing home. I did not know how to break it to him. No worries though, the staff of the new facility visited Dad and told him about the activities and the food, and the Astros games, and the poker, and the music. They told him it would be like being on a cruise ship, but on land. This delighted Dad. He became very excited for the next phase of his life. He even said, “Leave it to you Arlene to find such a great place.”
As you all know, worry, stress, and care-taking (especially being sandwiched between grandchildren who you help with, AND a 95 year old dad who you are solely responsible for) can take quite a toll on the spirit and energy level. For months, I have been heartsick, worried about the next chapter and knowing it was coming like an impending doom. All the while, I was trying to find care, and knowing things would have to change. Change is hard. Moving is hard. I promised myself there would be no more moves after I moved back into my new home, but oh well, one more move out, and a move in is necessary for Dad.
Yes, I am lucky to still have Dad. What I have left of him remains to be seen. At least I am comforted knowing he will be close by, and safe, and cared for when needed. (Pretty much full time at this point.) Dementia is the cruelest blow, for all involved. Hopefully he has a slow progression.
How can I adequately express my relief at finding him care? How can I explain the weight this will take off my shoulders and my head space? I will not have to worry about 9-1-1 calls by him, falls, (several of those in past year) and checking himself into the hospital, rushing him to the doctor for every little worry. I will not have to stay on top of his schedule of care-taking, wondering if it is enough. I will not have to shop and schlep for him. I will no longer be responsible for his medications. I feel a sense of freedom and relief that I have not felt for the past five or more years. Responsibility for a 95 year old who was as stubborn as a terrible twos toddler had taken its toll on me for sure. It has been a downward progression of his own self care for longer than I care to admit.
I realized I had to write about this gut-wrenching and heart-wrenching time in my life. Hopefully some will read it and think, “THANK YOU for expressing this because I am living this (or had lived this) too!”
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