Monday, October 17, 2011

Visiting a Demented Relative in a Nursing Home

Uncle Charles went to visit Joe in Martin today. His wife, my Aunt Agnes called to let me know he'd gone, but it was pretty upsetting to him.  Of course, it was an upsetting visit. With the state of Dad's dementia, all Dad knows is that he wants to be home, and no one will take him. I got the impression that although Charles' visit was fairly long, the majority of the visit was spent with Joe asking Charles to take him home. Aunt Agnes said Uncle didn't want to go back.

On the outside hearing about people being dumped in nursing homes, people want to judge about that. When you're on the inside, you begin to understand it. Joe's mind is far enough gone that he can't be controlled at home. So the caretaker - me - is faced with the decision of whether or not to care for the demented in the home.

The bottom line question is:  Do you let the demented live at home, with you the caretaker
  • devoting every minute trying to keep them safe
  • letting them go and take what happens - broken hips, arms, or skulls
  • letting them die from injuries suffered at home
or do you put them into a safe environment?

For me, Dad got to the point where he wouldn't quit going, but was falling daily. I couldn't pick him up. He wasn't breaking major bones. I couldn't pick him up. I could not depend on neighbors to be handy to pick him up at any hour of the day or night when he fell.

What the hell should I do?

I was emotionally broke trying to contain Joe. So letting him fall and break a hip or skull would let him die quicker. Is it my right to decide to do that?  Keep him safe or let him kill himself by injury? But he wasn't breaking bones, and I was having to call neighbors - across the street or from work - to pick him up on a daily basis. He wasn't their responsibility. They didn't sign up for picking Joe Lindsey up every day when he fell because he was too demented to quit trying to mow or rake the yard. Hell, I didn't know I signed up for that when I was born to him.

I decided he needed to be taken care of in a place where people could pick him up when he fell. Of course, in a nursing home environment, there aren't stairs off the patio, or gopher tracks in the yard, or tree roots to stumble over, or a mower to push one over their ability. So he doesn't fall in there like he does at home.

He's bitterly unhappy. You, the caretaker are damned if you do and damned if you don't. You are bitterly unhappy. Absolutely no one wins in this situation.

So who goes to visit a relative who is so demented they can't realize they can't be cared for at home but only desires to be home? Only people who are willing to put themselves through hell for the amount of time they visit and forever after as they suffer the guilt.

Who ends up being scarred by this? Every single person involved. The person is affected. The brothers or sisters are deeply affected. The children are deeply affected. The spouse, if of sound mind, is deeply affected.

It's no wonder that people don't want to go visit a relative like that in a nursing home. For my Dad, his sister isn't in much better shape than he is, his brother is ripped to shreds by the visit, his wife is too demented to consider it a possibility. He only had one child, me. I can't care for him at home. I, too, can hardly bear a visit that isn't a visit but simply a begging fest to take him home, which is impossible. I'm ripped to shreds by it, too.

If you visit, does anyone benefit? The person in the home doesn't realize they'e been visited - their time perception is skewed. What they may remember is no one will take them home. That's no benefit. The visitor is ripped apart with hopelessness, helplessness and guilt. That's no benefit.

No one wants to visit someone in a nursing home with a dementia that only lets them know they want to be home and the whole world is against them. And there you go with another guilt to suffer.


Anonymous said...

You're right. Nobody wins. I actually think there is value in visiting a person who at least knows there is another person there. Not his daughter or his brother, but a human who cares. It's an act of faith on my part that it matters, but I think it does. AND, having watched/participated in the journey, I could never judge someone for deciding they can't do it. My mother's best friend kept visiting Mom in the nursing home (Mom died before she forgot everyone) even tho she knew Mom wouldn't remember -- but there would have come a day when she couldn't go any more. I felt like a rotten child because I only visited 2-3 times a week the few months mom was in the nursing home. But I worked full time, and I was so emotionally wrung out by the time she got there ... you just have to let it go.

Anonymous said...

It's such a tough situation. Hang in there.