There comes a point in every caregiver’s journey where they must make a decision. An excruciating, gut-wrenching decision. They need a break. The years have taken their toll and the caregiver’s health has declined. If money were no object, then this would be easier. We could put Dad in a posh place with stellar reviews, compassionate staff, and all his needs would be met. But money is an object, as it is for thousands of caregivers. Getting older is expensive, especially when you have Alzheimer’s.
There are facilities in Atlanta that offer respite care for this very situation. But they require a 10-14 day minimum stay and can be $250 per day. Some of these places are willing to negotiate a lower price and fewer days, but it adds up quickly.
Then there are the horror stories everyone hears of elder abuse and neglect. There are facilities where residents are left in soiled diapers for hours, their possessions are stolen and the number of staff is grossly inadequate to manage the number of residents on a normal day or night, much less during an emergency evacuation.
There’s also my Father. This isn’t like sending your child to summer camp where they understand how many days it will be before they see their parents again. Routines in familiar places are absolutely essential for people with Alzheimer’s to be in the best frame of mind. If my Father’s routine is changed, he grows more confused, even when he’s at home. So what will happen if we take him to a facility for a few days? Will he think he’s been abandoned? Will he grow anxious or depressed? And when I go to visit him, will he beg me to take him with me? How will I be able to tear myself away?
A few years ago, an overnight hospital stay was required when my Father had stents put it in heart. After the procedure, while he was still asleep from the anesthesia, I took Mom home. I needed a quick nap before heading back to the hospital, where I planned to spend the night on the couch in his room. On my return to the hospital, Mom phoned to say Dad called her and he was madder than a wet hen.
“I want to go home!” he told her. “Tell Angie to come here and get me out of this place!”
Maybe he was scared when he woke up in a strange place. Maybe he forgot when they told him I was on my way. Maybe he had a negative reaction to the anesthesia. Whatever the reason, he was not a happy camper and had yelled at his nurse. He made her wheel him to the door of his room so he would be able to see me as soon as I came around the corner.
When I got there, I tried to console him and explained that he would have to spend the night, but I was right there and would stay with him until he was discharged. I wasn’t going anywhere. The anger melted away and he felt remorse for yelling at his nurse. He kept apologizing to her and I told him it was ok, that she understood.
That was 6 years ago. Now Dad is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s and gets confused when talking on the phone. How is he going to respond if he stays in a facility and neither of us is there to comfort him?
This is the gut-wrenching part. We need to sleep soundly, without listening for him to get up in the middle of the night. We need to eat a meal without having to cut up his food and ensure he takes small bites so he won’t aspirate. We need a break from cleaning up messes. We need to breathe and regroup and feel somewhat normal again. But will I be able to do that when he’s at a facility?
And if we do place him in a facility for a few days, how is that going to affect him once he’s home? Will he regress further? Will he cling more tightly to us, making sure we always stay in his sight?
Since my Father is still on hospice, they have contracts with four facilities in the Atlanta area where he can stay for five days without cost. After researching them, I discovered two of the four facilities received poor reviews and the remaining two seemed average. Thanks to websites like Caring.com, which is founded and operated by caregivers, you can learn a lot about any facility in America.
I wish this story had a warm, fuzzy ending ~ like how God dropped thousands of dollars into our lap so Mom and I could hire a fabulous caregiver to stay at home with Dad while the two of us took a cruise to the Caribbean where we slept like logs, ate fish till we grew gills and came home with tanned skin. But this isn’t one of those TV shows where things like that happen. This is real life. This is our life and we’re still making this decision.
So I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I asked the wonderful hospice people to see if one of those two decent facilities had any availability. I’ve asked God to direct our steps and give us wisdom about where to take Dad. And then I sat down and made a list of all the things I want if we place Dad in a facility. Like protection, nothing stolen from his personal belongings, compassionate staff, correct medication given at correct time, Dad wouldn’t be anxious or depressed, etc. It’s a pretty long list. And I’m praying over every single thing on that long list.
Why? Because God is God over everything, including this. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I do know that every single one of God’s promises is true. Never will He leave me, never will He forsake me. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped. God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him. Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.
Yes, it’s a gut-wrenching decision. But God is good. And I can’t wait to see what He does with this.