Tomorrow Millie would have been ninety-one. The moment I see the word “August” I begun to think of her, feel her, smell faint wafts of White Linen perfume every where I go. I am aware of things that she would find amusing – how often I reheat my coffee and then never get around to drinking that 2nd cup, how someone on tv pronounces the word “Alabama”.
There was a shift in my backbone this year. For a while I was not able to stand up tall when talking about the time I took care of Millie. I felt defeated, beat down by the disease of Alzheimer’s. Now I find that I talk about it often. All the time. What would you like to know? How can I help you? What did you wish you knew?
It is shocking for me when I meet new people and they do not know this giant part of my identity. I am not a caregiver for someone who is still alive, but being someone’s caregiver is something that sticks with you. When your loved one has moved on your focus shifts to others in need. That woman in the cafe – does she need help opening the door? Does she need help understanding which line to go to? Does she need anything?
I decided to get more involved with conversations about elder care this year. I participate in chats on twitter, respond to friends looking for advice for someone they work with, I pay attention to medical news. I know that much attention is given to our parent’s generation as so much will fall on them to responsibly take care of their own parents or spouse’s parents. There is not a lot out there for people my age – for the granddaughters and grandsons suddenly in the world of dementia and memory prompts.
I grew up going to nursing homes weekly. I went with Millie or with my Mother and it was just as routine as going to the grocery store. I find the men and women of my Grandmother’s generation easy to talk to, but I always have. I recognize that this is not the norm for many. Usually when someone in their 30’s suddenly finds themselves faced with being a caregiver to a Grandparent it is a total shocker.
If you are in this place right now, or about to be, I have some advice for you. I also want to tell you something and I want you to really absorb this: this time will be the best and the worst you have ever known. You will find yourself in situations and conversations where there is zero logic and all you can do is breathe and know that the moment will ebb. It will. I promise.
You will also be told, “Wow! I could never imagine taking care of my grandparent!” You will be told this a lot. A year ago you would have said this to yourself. Soon you will find yourself responding, “I can’t imagine NOT taking care of my grandparent.”
Five Easy Ways to Ease Into Being a Caregiver to a Grandparent
1. Routine is important. Very important. THEIR routine. Take 72 hours and observe what tasks need to be done each day (from the mundane like bathing and eating to correspondence and errands) then create a schedule that happens every day.
2. The Car. Regardless of your loved one’s current abilities at some point the car conversation is going to happen. Do both of you a favor and get it out of the way as soon as possible. Many geriatric doctors have, at the request of a concerned family, been known to write prescriptions indicating that the patient is no longer allowed to drive. I could write in much, much, much more detail about this for anyone that needs it.
3. Be three steps ahead. If your loved one has a hard time deciding what to wear eliminate that anxiety by placing out clothes that you know she will like. Slowly introduce clothes that are easier to get in and out of with one hand (down the road your loved one will be steadying themselves on you or a chair to dress). Choices in general can cause panic – if you know your Grandparent drinks 1/2 a cup of black coffee every morning don’t ask them what they want to drink. Just give them their coffee.
4. Photo albums will save you both. Now. Seriously. RIGHT NOW. Put together several family photo albums. These do not need to be intricate or arty. The simpler the better. Consider having an album for different eras of your loved one’s life. The college years, early marriage years, young children…label every person in large and easy to read font. Label locations. These albums will become your tools to bring your grandparent back to you.
5. The History Channel has your back. Invest in cable and a DVR and get to recording shows. You know what your grandparent is interested in best – there will absolutely be specials on it. Be prepared to watch these shows a million times. Stay away from the news if it has been a hard day. Trust me.
I could write for days about this. I really could. And I want to. And I will. But today I wanted to put these ideas out into the world in case someone out there needed to hear them. You are not alone.