I’m an only child. As my parent’s get up into their 80s, it’s just me to look after them. I thought I’d at least have Mario to lean on when the time came when my parents (and his dad for that matter) needed more assistance. But nope, he’s not here to help me deal with any of this and I can’t really ruminate on that too much, because what even is the point anyway? It certainly doesn’t help the current situation.
My parents live about 5 miles down the street. Mario’s dad lives about 15 miles away. So at least everyone is close and I’m not having to watch over and help anyone across vast distances. And I am absolutely willing to help, don’t get me wrong, these are all people I love and I’m here for it. It would have been nice to have someone else to help with me, but it just didn’t turn out that way.
My mom doesn’t get around so well herself, but she will use a cane, she has no problems with eating or drinking, and does not have the mental problems my dad does.
So I think who I’m struggling the most with is my dad.
My dad is really driving my mom and I crazy. We’re no medical professionals, but he’s exhibiting a lot of signs of Parkinson’s disease and the mental decline that can come with it. He’s also pretty deaf. You can be standing right next to him, literally yelling in his ear and he can not make out what you’re saying.
The icing on the cake is that he absolutely refuses to acknowledge he has any problems or do anything about them. This behavior also brings up every bad memory of Mario refusing to acknowledge he had a problem with alcohol, so that’s fun.
On “good” days, my dad mentally acts like he’s 50 years old with years to look forward to and do things. Of course his body has other ideas. He naps a lot, shuffles around barely being able to pick up his feet, and complains of always being cold (but of course, also refuses to do anything about that except jack the whole house heating up to sky high).
The worst part? When my mom and I show, voice (or even write down) our concern and frustration, he laughs it off like it’s all some big joke and certainly not a big deal. Trying to help him usually makes him angry at the person trying to help. My mom has been brought to tears by it and no positive response or apology will come from him. I try to tell myself that this could very well be a disease process slowly happening, but at the same time, my dad has rarely been what I call “happy” or emotionally caring.
After doing a little bit of research into dementia, I found that because it affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for things like judgment, and emotional regulation, it absolutely can intensify negative traits that person already has. So my hunch is this is playing a part and making things worse.
If I had to describe growing up with my dad, he was “Mr. Dark Cloud”. Dude just never seemed “happy”. Things just never “went his way”, according to him. He’s the type who buys a lotto ticket every week and then complains that he never wins, even though the odds are 1 in 292.2 million. He showed anger, stress and worry, but would rarely show a positive emotion. It wasn’t like he never smiled or was never happy at all, but it seemed rare. He was supportive to me and encouraged me to learn, or when I played sports, or whatever. He was just like the Bill Belichick of dads – doesn’t say a lot and not a lot of emotion, but will coach you well. Nevertheless, I feel like I had a great childhood. I don’t have any emotional baggage or anything about that, I just really don’t recall him being a happy guy.
That changed a bit when I got older and after I moved out and went to college. I know he’s very proud of me and my accomplishments. He does smile about that. And despite any of Mario’s faults, my dad liked him. Before his hearing loss got really bad, those two had some great conversations over coffee. I think my dad saw a little bit of his younger self there (my dad was an alcoholic until a year or so after I was born).
Anyway, back in August, he came home from a grocery trip with a badly bruised up head. Of course my mom was shocked and it took awhile to pull out of him what happened. Apparently he’d taken a nose dive in the grocery store parking lot. While he was explaining this, he also let it slip that the day before that, he fell in the restroom at Walmart and paramedics were called. So 2 falls in just as many days and how many others might have happened that we don’t know about. I went over to their house and basically forced him into the car and drove to Urgent Care to get him checked out. He was definitely not happy about that. That whole escapade turned into a 6 hour thing where Urgent Care sent us over to the hospital ER since it was head trauma, so he could get a scan. Naturally they did some other tests. He kept wanting to get up and leave the entire time, so that was fun. End result is that he only did surface damage and he was a little dehydrated. So he got lucky. The statistics are actually rather grave when it comes to old people and falls that do real damage.
That whole incident also confirmed that he was not eating and drinking normally. Like he just won’t eat or drink until well into the day. His hands shake a lot so it is difficult for him to make food. My mom will offer to help and he gets angry and yells at her that he doesn’t need any help. Regardless, my mom will still make an effort to see that he’s eating and drinking. I make an effort to make food and bring it over there when I know my mom is tired and worn out doing it. They don’t really qualify for Meals on Wheels because they’re not home bound (yet) and that leads to another problem … my dad’s driving has really gotten horrendous. It’s to the point where I routinely just put it out there to the universe to just keep him safe and keep him from hurting anyone else with a vehicle. Because I’m pretty sure even if his license were taken away, he’d definitely still drive.
I even wrote a letter detailing, first, that I love and care about him, but also all the ways he’s hurting himself, my mom, and me at this point, by not acknowledging the health and other issues. Also, that we’re here to help him in any way we can. I tried to keep it as positive as possible but also 100% honest. I made sure he read it. He didn’t say a word afterwards. However, for about a week after that he was better at drinking water throughout the day and eating meals. But gradually he just went back to what he was doing before.
A year and a half ago, he was still golfing almost weekly. It’s been a more rapid decline this year. I printed out an article about how hearing loss and cognitive decline are linked. I made him read it. Still nothing. He won’t even read email anymore. He keeps claiming there is something wrong with his email, yet every time I go over there and check it, nothing is. He’ll sit at the computer and watch those long-form, “miracle-cure” type of videos on YouTube where they’re trying to sell an over-priced supplement that more often than not, will do absolutely nothing (except cost you money).
Did I mention that he’s also sending off, on average, a few hundred bucks a month to places like Publisher’s Clearinghouse and has gotten hit with fraudulent charges on his credit cards more times than I can remember now? It just feels like a slow train wreck at times.
And again, there’s the fact that I’m finding myself in a situation of dealing with a loved one who refuses medical or other help.
In some ways, I think this is just his way of giving up. In other ways, I feel like if he just addressed the hearing and started eating and drinking properly, that would improve things drastically. And it still more ways, I think the cognitive issues are fully at play here and preventing the other things from happening.
What to do? That’s what I’ve been asking myself all year and I still don’t know the answer. What I can control is how I take care of myself. Caregivers really do have to make themselves number one in order to be healthy (both physically and mentally) to care for another person. It’s that old, “put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone seated next to you” thing. So I’m doing that, but short of physically forcing my dad into a car and off to a doctor’s appointment (that I or my mom make), I don’t see this ending well. So at the same time I’m mentally preparing for how much worse this can get.
Aging, whether it’s your own or your loved ones, truly is not for the weak.