As I sit with clients nowadays, the conversation turns more and more to aging parents. When it does I often share my own experience with my mom. Hopefully sharing this part of my life will provide you with some insight to help you with your own situation.
I have been taking care of mom for the past eleven years, beginning with her heart surgery at age 88. She was living in Florida, getting along pretty well, friends, bingo, dinner shows and doctor appointments. All the necessities of sun belt living.
I first realized she needed help when she didn’t understand the seriousness of her condition. It was life threatening! With a second opinion and our guidance, mom had bypass and valve replacement surgery. Two years later at age 90, it was a hip replacement. All of this was done in NY. My wife and I were with her through all of it, doctor appointments, surgery and rehab. As mom was becoming the “Bionic Woman” we were learning that she was having trouble comprehending the information from the doctors.
The progression of this story goes from a condo in Florida, to an independent living facility on Long Island, to assisted living and finally a nursing home near our home.
Through working with our primary care physician, a geriatric psychiatrist and a social worker we were able to provide mom with the appropriate care through the stages of her decline in mental health. Mom was diagnosed with vascular dementia, caused by a series of mini strokes over the years. Her condition would decline, plateau, decline and plateau.
During this time period, she experienced various traumatic events. Florida was hit with one of the worst hurricane seasons ever, Katrina, Rita just to name two. The disruption to her life, the damages to her home all took a toll on her life. She wasn’t herself. At the independent living facility, as she overflowed her sink, flooded her apartment and those below, all she knew to do was to mop and throw towels, never thinking to turn off the water. Mom became distraught, riddled with anxiety and hysteria. Up to this point, it wasn’t easy for us to see her state of mind. It is important to know, as we learned, seniors know how to cover up their deficiencies
Today, mom is 99 years old, physically frail but healthy. Memory wise, not so good. She isn’t aware of where she is or who people are, but fortunately she appears happy. She waves hello to everyone, smiles and says “help me”. When asked what she needs, she just says “I don’t know”. She knows my wife’s name, but continues to call me James, the name of her brother. When I sometimes try to correct her and say “that’s not my name” and ask her again, she smirks, smiles and says “Jimmy”.
My recommendations to you if you have aging parents are to:
- Watch for the warning signs of memory loss
- Get the advice of healthcare professionals early on
- Reach out to your professional advisors for guidance
We have many resources to direct you to for help, whether it’s the professionals mentioned above, agencies to turn to, or checklists such as a nursing home checklist when searching and visiting facilities.
As always, we are here if you need us.
Shortly after this article was written Gus’ mother, Marie Catanzaro, passed away peacefully and joined his father.