I didn't know anything about Alzheimer's before my mother and
my stepfather developed it at roughly the same time in the spring of 2005. I
was living outside of Portland, Oregon; they were living in Mission, Texas.
They were 86 and 84, respectively. I had tried to talk them into moving to an
assisted-living community in Portland previously, but they always said they
were doing fine. So I was surprised when my mother called one morning out of
the blue and said, "We need help."
My husband and I immediately flew to Texas. And we walked into
a nightmare. There were cockroaches in the kitchen and maggots in the fridge;
the bathrooms were filthy, and we found evidence of rats. Both my mom and
stepdad were skinny as rails. Their hair was dirty and scraggly. It looked like
they hadn't bathed, eaten, or changed their clothing in months.
My husband and I immediately took over. We got durable power of
attorney for both so we could handle all their affairs and started packing
their belongings with the goal of moving them to Oregon. But after two weeks,
my stepfather was hospitalized, and several weeks later, he died of pneumonia. I think once he knew we were there to take
care of my mother, he could let go.
My mother moved in with us in Oregon. Caring for her was
exhausting and heartbreaking. I work full-time as a police records specialist,
so my retired husband took care of her during the day. He's the last person
you'd expect to be a caregiver -- he's a big bear of a man who likes to hunt
and fish -- but he would bathe her, dress her, paint her nails, and bring her
to meet me for lunch. When I got home from work, he'd need a break, so I'd take
over. I was also organizing her finances -- Social Security, Medicare, and selling her house
in Texas. She often woke us up at night to help her to the bathroom; one night
she woke us up 14 times. Sometimes it was so frustrating I had to scream into
my pillow, if I wasn't crying into it already.
But other days she would sit and talk with us, just like the
old days. Those are the days I remember best. We were lucky -- she never got to
the point where she didn't recognize us or was violent. She stayed sweet and
docile until the end when she died, at 88, of heart
Looking back, I can't believe the strength I had. I had no idea
I could do what I did -- willingly and with no regrets. Although she's gone
now, I stay on WebMD's Alzheimer's Exchange
as a tribute to her. I want to help others understand it's OK to get angry,
frustrated, and sad. And I want them to know it's important to cherish the good
days. If you give your parent or loved one a lot of love and support, you will
never have any regrets.