The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer type dementia in
the United States. This makes up approximately 70% of all dementias. It also reported that 15.9 million
Americans provided 18.2 billion hours of unpaid assistance to family and friends with Alzheimer’s and
other dementias in 2016. It comes as no surprise that almost daily I encounter a patient who shares
their story about caring for a loved one with dementia. This is my story.
In 2006, the very weekend that I graduated with my masters in nursing, my dad was diagnosed with
dementia. My mom was his primary caregiver until he passed in 2012. Losing a parent is never easy.
The person charged with your care and protection is no longer there. As I grieved the loss of my dad, it
became apparent that I was losing my mom to dementia as well. After my dad’s passing, we started to
notice a cognitive decline in my mom. Those of you that have family or friend with dementia are
familiar with this subtle progression, that at first you try to deny, but then have to admit that someone
you love is gradually being stolen away from you.
The transition for a parent to go from caretaker to being the one requiring care is often a difficult one
for both the parent and the child. For me, this adjustment coincided with my daughter’s departure out
of the house for college. It was overwhelming trying to balance the emotions of encouraging one
generation to gain independence while slowly reducing the independence of another. It was a struggle
to gain the courage to confront my mom with her disease. Then even after difficult discussions were
had, they soon evaporated as the result of the disease and had to be repeated. The weight of having a
loved one with dementia was almost unbearable.
I have sat with many patients in my office, following their annual exams, sharing our struggle with how
to best manage our loved ones’ care. Some moved loved ones into their home to care for them, others,
like me, hired home health aides in an attempt to keep them out of facilities. My experience was that
this worked for a while but as the disease progressed, my mom’s social isolation grew. Boredom is an
environment in which cognitive decline thrives. This past summer my sister and I had to face the reality
that Mom’s condition was quickly deteriorating and a change needed to be made.
The decision to move my mom out of the only home we have ever known was the most agonizing
decision that my sister and I have ever had to make. In August, we starting looking for assisted living
care facilities with memory care units. I am happy to say that our tale comes with a happy ending. On
September 23 rd we moved my mom into a facility which allowed her to bring not only own furniture but
her beloved cat, Lucy, as well. Initially she was homesick and spoke only of going home. As time has
passed, she has become content and happy in her new home. With better nutrition and socialization
she is thriving. I look forward to visits and always take fresh flowers which she loves.
All of our stories are different. Each of us will navigate through these decisions differently but we all
have love in our hearts. I still mourn for the loss of the mom that I once knew but now I am joyful as I
get acquainted with the person she is now. During my last trip to visit we took her to a restaurant/bar
near her facility. When our meal was delayed we were delighted when she joined us in a game of pool!