Lately I have talked with more and more people who find themselves with loved ones who have various health complications and dementia-related conditions. Their tales are sad, complicated, yet sometimes inspiring. My heart goes out to them and the personal struggles they face. From my own family experience I can say it is a tough road…
My dad had Alzheimer’s Disease. His placement in a care facility occurred after a hospitalization and rehab stretch. In their 80s, my mom could no longer care for dad at home.
Dad was not happy about the move initially, very agitated and belligerent. He wanted to go home or “just to visit” but it was recommended that we not do so. The first three weeks were rough, but by then dad couldn’t remember where home was… Mom and staff did their best to help our family feel like dad’s new home was our home as well. Mom went daily for lunch, afternoon, and dinner. She worked to actively socialize both of them into the new environment. Important for mom were the good friends she made with other caregivers. They continued to support one another long after their partners were no longer at the home.
We didn’t take dad back home, even for a visit, as recommended, but discovered that dad enjoyed picnics at the local MetroPark with my brother. Taking him to places that were uncomplicated and didn’t have emotional connection were good initially, but as dad’s memory deteriorated that became more and more difficult to manage. And winter raged in northeast Ohio…
Of course, each Alzheimer’s patients’ needs are different. It is important to follow the recommendations of trusted health care providers.
One thing that our family did was utilize the facility “family room” as a place to hold our holiday or birthday gatherings. Most facilities have such rooms. We just moved “home” to dad… It helped us all through a difficult time.
There was one lovely couple who my parents shared those Alzheimer Unit days with that we all grew to love dearly… The wife had a stroke and it affected her memory and her motor and speech function. Story goes that she couldn’t grasp the idea of leaving her home yet she needed ’round the clock care and supervision, and the husband came up with the brilliant idea to frame the move to her as their “retirement resort!” He told her that they had both worked so very hard all their lives and he wanted to give her the gift of relaxation and luxury and being waited on like a queen. He made sure to show her the little beauty salon where she could have her hair done any time, and referred to the big shower room as the place where she would get her spa treatments, and told her they could have their dinner served to them each evening on fine linen table cloths. He even arranged for them to have a candle-lit dinner in her room once a week. He would bring her flowers. It was all so sweet… And she bought into the idea that this shift was truly a gift to her for being such a wonderful wife.
We must take an individual approach as to the best way to help an Alzheimer’s patient transition to a new living environment. The patient’s room doesn’t need to have all of their things, just a few that offer comfort and familiarity. Give the patient the chance to make it their own nest, if possible. I do recommend a photo of the patient and family members, and yes, one of those who are coming in and out to support and help — all those much-appreciated neighbors and close friends. Labeling photos is helpful. Photo albums that are labeled are good, too. And definitely post a sizable calendar. My dad referred to that regularly during the first few months of his stay. It also helped the rest of us know who was in and out, when, and doing what as dad sure couldn’t remember! It became ritual to sign in or leave each other messages on that calendar… We actually still have it — a reminder of what my dad was all about — a connected family — practicing teamwork. He was an engineer, go figure.