Caring for Aging Parents is a Roller Coaster Ride

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I recently heard a lyric sung by Ronan Keating, which perfectly describes the emotions evoked when caring for aging parents: “Life is a rollercoaster/Just gotta ride it.” Not a Six Flags aficionado? Me neither. We don’t get to choose. Mom will break her hip at a time when we’re already stressed to the max.

The past eleven years caring for my 93 year-old dad have been like an extended stay amusement park and I still have a series of barrel rolls and corkscrew turns to go. I’m starting to think feline genes run in my family. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not complaining about Dad repeatedly pulling through after I’d given him up for dead, but this ride on Space Mountain is shortening my own life.

If you have a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you know that Sherlock Holmes skills are a must. My dad can’t tell me what’s wrong when he stops eating, if he’s in any pain or why he doesn’t want to get out of bed. Behavioral observations yield only educated guesses.

Last week I was sure my dad was about to transcend to the pearly gates. My dad’s doctors, hospice team and experienced facility staff were convinced he had pneumonia and was aspirating food. He looked terrible and refused all sustenance, save three glasses of orange juice per day. When my dad started behaving like a fickle feline, turning his nose up at chocolate ice cream, his favorite treat, I knew something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

My husband and I were on death watch, visiting Dad several times per day, scouring the answering machine for messages the moment we walked in the door, and emailing “Dad updates” to my brothers and sisters. We were so confident of our psychic powers that my brother contacted the pastor at the church where we’d buried my mom’s ashes to alert him to the fact that she would soon have company. We double-checked Dad’s cremation plans.  I googled “How long can a person live without food?”

As it turns out, our crystal balls had malfunctioned in unison. Five days after Dad was down for the count, he had a sudden reversal of fortunes. His health returned to baseline and his mood resumed its wild swings between perky and cantankerous. If Dad were still verbally adept, he would have scolded up with Mark Twain’s retort: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

This is the second time Dad had played rope-a-dope with a virus, and like Ali, ultimately won the fight. These recurring resurrections throw me for a loop and evoke starkly conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I’m pleased that my dad is still with me so that I can continue to shower him with my love. Yet, I also wonder what’s in store for Dad. Will his resilient body persist and allow his dementia to progress to the point where he forgets how to swallow? I hope not.

All I know for certain is that I’d better get used to thrill rides. That’s the reality of elder care. I just hope I haven’t inadvertently stumbled into Ohio’s Cedar Point, home of 17 roller coaster rides. I don’t think my stomach could take it.

 

 

Lorie Eber, JD is a Gerontologist and Certified Personal Trainer, who teaches Gerontology at Coastline Community College. She is also a writer and a Keynote Speaker on Healthy Living, Healthy Aging and Elder Care issues. Lorie’s Dad is 93 years-old and suffers from vascular dementia. Visit her website: www.AgingBeatsTheAlternative.com. Read her eBook: www.amazon.com/author/lorieeber.

Boomer Reflections: I’d Rather Be an Old Lady Than a Teenager

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We baby boomers don’t like to admit that we’re getting old. Botox, face lifts, cellulite removal, and tummy tucks; they all sell. So far, I’ve resisted the lure of the age-denying fix. Good genetics and living a disgustingly healthy lifestyle have insulated me somewhat from the ravages of aging. My aging complaints, by any objective standard, are relatively minor.

Nonetheless, I notice an accumulation of unsettling, creepy things happening to my body. It threw me for a loop when I had to replace my Imelda Marcos-worthy shoe collection and get my wedding ring re-sized, due to bunions and arthritis. Nor am I happy seeing scalp where there once was a thick crop of hair. I get no thrill out of suddenly realizing that everyone in the room is younger than I and probably calls me an old lady behind my back. Even more disturbing, I’ve turned into somewhat of a scatterbrain, misplacing items and religiously relying on To-Do lists. This new persona, which I have often derogatorily referred to as being a “space cadet,” stands in stark contrast to my earlier ability to maintain a Tiger Wood’s-like laser focus (pre-scandal Tiger, that is.) In my law practice days, my secretary could come into my office, remove something from my desk and I was none the wiser.

As a glass-half-full person, I can’t let this planned obsolescence of body and brain get me down. Experience tells me that things are only good or bad by comparison. Recently I hit on a technique I want to share with you. I was racking my brain to think of a phase in my life that trumped aging as a bigger downer, and it hit me: being a teenager.

I now delight in recalling the days when the zit monster took over my face, my emotions went from deliriously happy to suicidal in 2 seconds flat, and I felt totally confused and befuddled by almost everything in life. When I really need to cheer myself up, I find joy in reflecting upon some of the crazy, reckless things I did in my youth. A few examples will suffice. I routinely hitchhiked and would jump into any car that stopped, no matter how drug addled the driver, had unprotected sex in the time of illegal abortions, and happily experimented with a variety of illegal substances. Somehow I survived all that and hopefully my judgment is a little better now.

All in all, when I think back to my life at 16, which I now make a point to do on a regular basis, it’s no contest: I’ll take 56 years-old.

Lorie Eber, JD is a Gerontologist and Certified Personal Trainer, who teaches Gerontology at Coastline Community College. She is also a writer and a Keynote Speaker on Healthy Living, Healthy Aging and Elder Care issues. Lorie’s Dad is 93 years-old and suffers from vascular dementia. Visit her website: www.AgingBeatsTheAlternative.com

Caring for a Parent is the True Form of Giving Back

Lorie Eber, JD, Gerontologist, Certified Personal Trainer Educator/Public Speaker/Boomer Blogger, Healthy Aging & Elder Care

I’ve always been annoyed by the phrase “giving back.” I practiced law for 23 years, re-careered myself as an aging specialist, and then worked for non-profit for 6 years. People presumptively characterized my work for the non-profit as “giving back.” My response was that I had not “stolen” anything when I worked 12 hour days solving my clients’ legal problems. In fact, working for the non-profit felt selfish; it made me feel good to help others.

My Dad would deny this, but he was a wonderful parent. His love compensated for my mother’s total disinterest in raising her five children.  Imagine going bra shopping with your Dad! I did. I have vivid memories of climbing onto the toe boxes of my Dad’s Florsheims when he returned from work and feeling loved. Led by my Dad, my siblings and I crunched fallen acorns under our feet while strolling through Georgetown munching on a “walk apple.” Dad even went to bat for me when the nuns complained that I exhibited a bad attitude in high school. He simply pointed out, in his curt fashion, that I was a straight “A” student. The nuns never called him in again. Finances were so tight that my Dad borrowed rent money from my younger brother, who saved every cent he ever laid eyes on. Of necessity, my Dad became an expert in the art of paying down one credit by borrowing on a dozen others.

I’ve cared for my Dad for over 10 years now. Since he’s been afflicted with vascular dementia, he’s become totally self-absorbed. Several years ago, when I told him I was going into the hospital for a hysterectomy, his response was “Who will care for me if you’re in the hospital?” On a gut level, this threw me for a loop, but then my logical brain kicked in and I reminded myself that the unfeeling response was the result of Dad’s brain disease.

It is undeniably difficult caring for a loved one with dementia. But, the reward for me is that it allows me to “give back.” And, even if my Dad lives to be 100, I’ll never be able to return all the love he’s given me.

- Lorie Eber, JD, Gerontologist Certified Personal Trainer Educator/Public Speaker/Boomer Blogger, Healthy Aging, & Elder Care