I've been family caregiver for my mother, Mildred since
November of 2008.
She was diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s Disease that year and moved in with me and my family. This was after three episodes in a 4-month period of her driving with extreme confusion, low blood sugar, and nearly passing out at the wheel. Each time she was blessed that either a family member or friend in the community saw her and called 911. She was rushed to the ER for treatment. Finally with the support of her doctor, my family, and getting Power of Attorney, I was finally able to step in with some family help (after 3 years of desperately trying to help my very independent and strong-willed mother).
She had virtually isolated herself for those past 3 years because she didn’t want anyone, not even her own family, to see the changes in her. Fortunately through those driving scares came the blessing of finally being able to help her…inspite of herself. Prior to the 3rd driving incident and hospital stay, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had finally gone to see a doctor, Dr. Chastain to get a prescription for a meditation. Since she had not seen a doctor in probably a long time and was seeing a new doctor, he would just write her a prescription and send her on his way. He began questioning her when he noticed her confusion.
Back then, to most people seeing Mama at first glance, would not guess that she was not mentally clear. She was very well-dressed and kept and managed to get by with surface conversations. Probing deeper, however, quickly showed how she struggled to understand and communicate. Mama was (and still is) fighting this disease with everything she’s got!
Fortunately, my mother had my contact info (and my sister’s) written on a notepad in her purse. You see, my mother is a retired Elementary school teacher. She knew that she was losing her mental faculties, and in true teacher fashion kept copious notes about everything to help her keep track of things. She showed the doctor the notepad when he began asking her questions that she did not understand. The doctor convinced Mama to hand him the notepad, and was able to later step out and call me.
This was literally the turning point in helping her. I was so very grateful and touched by the fact that Dr. Chastain cared enough to call me. All before my mother was so independent and unwilling to allow anyone to know her personal business. Neither me nor my sister knew who her doctor was, nor was there any record of her seeing anyone in prior to her isolation (and no information through the local pharmacies either). I felt like a detective who kept coming to dead ends, and this was with the help of the hospital, family and friends.
Dr. Chastain explained that he had evaluated her and had her go through a series of tests in her office for about 20 minutes. And he was clear that her diagnosis was Moderate Alzheimer’s. So now we had a documented diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. So now, with her new doctor, there was a plan in place. We had to wait until something else happened unfortunately, trusting that it would not be fatal. The plan was that we would be able finally step in and intervene with the NEXT driving episode.
And the inevitable occurred….yet another episode of driving with low blood sugar, extreme confusion and this time completely passing out at a stop sign. How blessed she was that things weren’t worse. She truly had angels protecting her each time. While in the hospital this 3rd time, we took away her keys, and had a doctor order that she could no longer live alone nor drive anymore.
She reluctantly agreed to sign Power of Attorney papers giving me and my sister POA over all of her affairs (Durable Power of Attorney). All of this felt like an intervention on her behalf…and it truly was. Mama was angry, but we knew it had to be done.
She moved from SC to GA with me (all of this occurred only one month after I had a hysterectomy). So this was quite a challenging time to say the least. But it’s amazing the strength we have inside of us to make decisions and do what is required of us when we choose to step up and be there for our loved ones.
It’s been quite a journey of being my mother’s family caregiver. I had to step up and be the leader, so to speak. I wouldn’t trade nothing for my journey, as the song goes.
And my husband, Michael and sons Michael Jr. and Benjamin have been and ARE the best. They welcomed Mama into our home and adjusted to demands of doing their parts to be there for her. I am very blessed to have a strong and loving family.
I’m also grateful to other family members, friends, support in the community, and through the Internet for prayers, info, moral support, and hands on support.
I was inspired to fully embrace this journey by educating myself as best I could on how to better care for her (and myself & family in the process of being a caregiver family). One of the greatest blessings is music in our lives. It is a wonderful tool for self-expression, healing, and connection. Another great blessing is that I’ve been given the opportunity to complete my relationship with my mother.
I knew it was necessary to get my own feelings out, to document this journey in honor to my mother, and as a convenient way to keep family and friends in the loops, and perhaps provide support and perspective to other Alzheimer's family caregiver.
Last summer, Mama was placed in an assisted living community (that also has a memory care unit). So my caregiving journey continues, but with much need additional support at this stage of the relentless progression of Alzheimer’s.
I bow to my mother’s courage and zest for living.