My father’s wife of 30 years passed away in November 2014. Prior to her passing, he was her caretaker in all senses of the word, even to the extent that he was neglecting himself. We knew while he was taking care of her that something was happening with his cognition, but he was a wonderful, loving caretaker and soldiered on, only focusing on her.
After she passed away and his mission was over, he seemed so lost in loneliness and alone in his thoughts. Thankfully, he wanted to move 700 miles from Alabama to Virginia near me and my husband. He looked forward to moving to Virginia with his two cats (seven minutes away from us). He moved into a cute independent living apartment in September 2015, in a retirement community that provides for independent living, assisted living and memory care.
The year that followed was filled with a series of events we never anticipated, but should have. All of which contributed to the tremendous amount of stress I carried right between my shoulder blades over the last year.
Several significant events triggered his next move in August 2016. First, because he wanted my husband and I to help manage his monthly expenses, we would monitor his email and accounts to ensure nothing unusual occurred and that a monthly bill was paid on time. I would go grocery shopping with him and help him understand where he could drive (a few minutes away) to purchase the items he wanted, if we didn’t go together.
Like many of you, one of our vehicles was subject to a recall, so one morning while I was in the office (I work from home two days a week), I asked my husband to check to see if my father’s car was also subject to the same recall. As he was checking, he noted that there were emails that reflected my father’s car was towed twice the day before! My husband noted a missed call on his phone from my father the prior evening, but he didn’t call me.
I tried calling my father’s phone that same morning and there was no answer. I tried calling the security office at the retirement community and they said they would stop by his apartment after they resolved an earlier emergency call. So many things were going through my mind. I started to call the hospitals in our area to see if my father was there. Thankfully he was not, but still I could not reach him.
Finally, I received a call from my father an hour after calling the hospitals and he was wondering why I had the security officer wake him up. When I asked about the towed car, he said he had a dead battery and called his insurance to send a service to jump start his car. He didn’t understand my worry and went back to bed.
What I haven’t told you yet was that my father had taken his car to the grocery store previously and gotten lost. He had also gotten lost coming to meet me at my home. Thankfully both times I was working at home, and could take time off to find him and make sure all was okay.
During the weeks and months after he moved to his independent living apartment, he began to socially isolate himself. He seemed uncomfortable socializing and would spend most of his time in his apartment. There were so many opportunities to participate in activities, many he enjoyed doing in Alabama, yet he just stayed in his room except for his evening meal. That’s why each time I was at his apartment, I’d check his refrigerator to make sure nothing was expired or spoiled.
On one visit, I stopped by after work and found his keys in the door and he was in bed at 3:45 in the afternoon in his pajamas! I saw that his refrigerator was sparse because he said he kept putting off going out to get groceries. I told him to get ready and I’d be back to pick him up and take him grocery shopping. On our way, back to his apartment, I reminded him that if he felt uncomfortable driving and wanted to sell his car, we could help him do that. He said he wasn’t ready to do that, so I dropped it.
After getting him and his groceries settled in his apartment, I was back at home, ironing clothes later that evening getting ready for work the next day, when my father called and said he wanted me to sell his car. Of course, we’d help him, just like we helped him in Alabama when he wanted to sell his other car. While we were getting the car ready, removing the trash and items he wanted to keep, we noticed the car had an unusual odor. Later my husband said the odor was from a grocery bag of spoiled groceries in the trunk.
So many signs were presenting themselves. We had found out only a month earlier that he was taking his medication all at one time. He essentially was overdosing himself on his medication so that he wouldn’t forget to take them. I told my father I was concerned about him and he said he thought he was losing his short-term memory. I asked him how he felt about it, and he said he was okay. I was not! I asked him if I could make an appointment at a neurologist to see what was going on. Hopefully we can slow down what was happening.
It’s been almost a year since my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After the diagnosis, I asked him if he would take look at the on-site assisted living facility. He said he didn’t think he was ready for that sort of place. I told him I wanted to look at it, and he didn’t have to decide anything right now. He said it might be a good idea to look at it, but again he said he wasn’t ready for it. Less than one hour after looking at an apartment in the assisted living facility, he said he wanted to move in there. I was shocked! I told him to take time to think about it, and that he didn’t have to decide now. He told me it made to much sense. Of course, we’d help him, just like we helped him sell his home in Alabama and move to Virginia.
The weeks that lead up to his next move were filled with doctors’ appointments with specialists and planning his move, including downsizing again. I had no idea that while living in Alabama he had only seen a general practitioner and psychiatrist. Now, he was seeing a general practitioner quarterly at his facility, a cardiologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist and podiatrist. I can’t believe he hadn’t seen an endocrinologist before. His blood sugar numbers were escalating and teetering on possibly needing insulin, but his type-2 diabetes is now under control and he no longer needs thyroid medication (I don’t think he needed it in the first place).
My father said he’s happy and comfortable with his cats in his apartment. He has all his meals provided, medication management, weekly housecleaning and laundry service and 24-7 nurse care (if needed). He feels safe and content and has told me to “tone down my worry a few notches”. He is still socially isolating himself, and his short-term memory loss is getting worse.
I know there are three levels of cognitive impairment. Mild, Moderate or Severe. My father’s loss is moderate and I’m afraid of what severe will look like. It makes me sad to think of losing him a little bit more each day, but I’m thankful he chose to be near us and we’ll do everything we can to make sure he’s happy. I want the best for him and if trying to worry less makes him happy, I’ll keep trying.