Learn about author Linda Brendle through her memoir, “A Long and Winding Road: A Caregiver’s Tale of Life, Love, and Chaos.”
Raising twins may offer twice the love, but it often means twice the trouble. The same can be said for caring for two parents at the same time — especially when one has Alzheimer’s disease and one has vascular dementia.
Just imagine two-year-old twins who are tall enough to reach all the kitchen cabinets and strong enough to open all the appliance doors and push all the buttons.
Twice the Doctors’ Appointments
One of the more difficult aspects of caregiving is keeping track of the many doctors required to keep the modern senior citizen healthy.
In my situation, I dealt with a primary care physician, a neurologist, a urologist, a cardiologist, a dentist, an oral surgeon and a physical therapist — times two.
Most of the doctors were sensitive to our situation, and they scheduled my parents’ appointments at the same time. Mom and Dad were uninhibited enough that we all went into the examining room together so I didn’t have to worry about leaving either one unattended. Occasionally, though, one or the other would have an individual issue that threw the whole system out of sync, but the patient still arrived at his or her appointment with an entourage.
More Medications than a Pharmacy
Multiple doctors meant multiple prescriptions and a daily medication regimen that would confound a pharmacist.
Tight control was necessary, because both Mom and Dad held the belief that, when it came to pills, if one was good for you, several would be better.
Our in-house pharmaceuticals were hidden away in the linen closet of the master bathroom, and I dispensed the proper dosages to the proper recipient at the proper time. Nurses were often impressed with the spread sheet I presented when asked for a list of medications, but it was the only way I could maintain order and my own sanity.
Bath Time Blues
Getting twins into and out of the tub may be quite a challenge, but at least they can share a bath until they are old enough to take care of the task on their own. Elderly people with dementia are as resistant to the process of getting clean as their younger counterparts. Unfortunately, there is really no safe way to do a two for one bath, so once again, the challenge is doubled.
In our house, bath day didn’t come as frequently as it should have because I wasn’t up to it. Both Mom and Dad had a litany of reasons why they didn’t need to take a shower, and when they finally acquiesced, they sometimes pulled the trick of splashing a little water on their faces and calling it done. Eventually, their declining health required me to take a more active role in the process. We installed a bath seat, grab bars, and a hand held shower in their bathroom. I physically bathed Mom, but Dad wasn’t ready to give up that much of his privacy. I laid out all his toiletries and clean clothes, instructed him — each time — on how to safely enter and exit the tub, and prayed until he was safely back on the sofa. Needless to say, by the time both of them were clean, all three of us were exhausted.
Positive Aspects of Two for One
In spite of the many challenges of two for one caregiving, there were also advantages. After almost seventy years together, Mom and Dad shared a bond that transcended dementia. Even when Mom wasn’t quite sure who he was, she always enjoyed Dad’s company. He entertained her by sharing memories that he retained longer than she did, and their companionship fought off the loneliness that plagues many people with dementia. In addition, they were content to sit together on the sofa in their sitting room, holding hands and watching TV instead of wandering through the house and surrounding areas seeking the home where they once felt secure.
Caring for both my parents was extremely challenging, and I eventually experienced health problems and emotional burnout. Regardless of the hardships, I was blessed to have my parents with me long after many of my friends had lost theirs.
Excerpt from a “Long and Winding Road…”
One of my favorite childhood memories is a trip to Galveston for a Hagan-family campout…
Three of Mom’s sisters brought their families, and we spent two days and a night on the beach. We really roughed it, sleeping in the car or on blankets on the sand, cooking over an open fire, and using Mother Nature’s restroom facilities. As an eight-year-old tomboy, I thought it was great fun. Some of the details have become fuzzy, but the one thing I still remember clearly is the inner-tube incident.
Most of the adults were in their thirties: old enough to know better, but still too young to care. The government and litigation attorneys were not yet hovering to keep us out of danger, and we were still allowed to do stupid things like take the tags off of pillows and make inner-tube rafts.
We didn’t have inflatable Barney floating rings or giant blow-up lounge chairs, but we saved old inner tubes that had been patched too many times to be safe on the road. With a bicycle pump and a little effort, they floated just fine. Then somebody had a bright idea. Why not tie all the inner tubes together to form a raft and take a float trip? Uncle Ray, who was 6’6″ and a very strong swimmer, could pull us out to sea, and we could let the waves wash us back in. We would wait until after dark so that nobody would get too sunburned.
As the sun went down, we all piled on. Some climbed into the center of a tube while others hung onto the outer perimeter of the raft. I was set into a tube with my rear end in the hole, my arms and legs draped out over the sides. Dad hung onto the edge of my tube, and I felt safe, even though I was a little afraid of the waves and the murky water.
Uncle Ray started swimming with smooth, effortless strokes. He pulled us out so far I could hardly see the shore. When he began to tire, he took his place on the edge of the raft, and we waited for the waves to take us home.
We didn’t have to wait long–the surf was up. I had fun for a while, but then the waves began to swell. They broke over our heads, and salt water stung my nose and eyes. Everybody was laughing and having a good time, but I wanted to get back on dry ground.
Then, the big one hit.
The rush of water tipped my inner tube over and threw me head down into the Gulf. I squeezed my eyes shut and held my breath. Almost immediately, I felt Dad’s hand–the hand that meant security and loving discipline–grab the heel of my foot. I was soon right-side-up and back in my inner tube.
The wave hadn’t been the tsunami I had envisioned. Nobody was lost at sea, and we all made it safely back to shore, but I’ve avoided putting my head under water ever since.
As I reflect on this incident, I’m grateful that Dad was there to catch me and pull me back. As I watch them drift away from me, I just wish I could do the same for him and Mom, now.
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