Saturday 4 July 2015

When Caregiving Leads to Employment - One Woman's Experience

My name is Michelle Thompson and I am part-time blogger and social outreach coordinator for, as well as a mother of three, wife of one, and caregiver for both of my elderly parents (who live with us here in Caldwell, New Jersey).

My caregiver journey began three years ago as my father began to show subtle, then not so subtle signs of dementia.  As I assisted my Mom in understanding his condition, his outlook, and his therapies, my world (as I knew it then) was in for a change.  Over the years, my very capable father had managed their finances, kept their house and landscaping in reasonable shape, cooked, shopped, and carried a major portion of their day to day responsibilities.   His dementia presented itself slowly: small, gradual signs of "senioritis" such as forgotten car keys and forgotten parking spaces and awkward, sullen gaps in communicating with loved ones de-evolved into blank stares, trouble following simple instructions, medications not being taken, wandering of the hallways, and longer sleeping and napping periods.  About this time, part-time and night-time incontinence gave way to full-time incontinence.  My mother, with her own declining health (type 2 diabetes, poor circulation and ever limited mobility) did what she could, but was mentally frustrated and physically a wreck in trying to attend to his daily caregiving needs.  Her caring for Dad was accelerating her own physical deterioration.

In coordination with my brother (now living in California) we brought in professional caregivers to assist mom, but we never seemed to find the right "fit".  We cycled through several agencies, but when Dad started needing overnight care, our requirements changed.  They really weren't in the financial shape to move to assisted living (especially here in Northern New Jersey!), and although I had some reservations, there were signs that I could assist them as the dutiful older daughter: the last of my three kids was off to college, I had a highly flexible schedule working primarily from home for, and my ever loving husband understood the financial bind my parents were in AND the emotional bind I was in as the oldest daughter looking to provide care and comfort to my rapidly aging parents. 

Long story short, we sold my parent's house and began the not so easy task of retrofitting our own house to accommodate two seniors with limited mobility.  Where to begin?  With the help of our contractor neighbor, we converted our dining room into their new master suite, complete with a basic hospital bed for Dad and a tastefully decorated twin bed for Mom.  After 50+ years of sleeping together, it was a hard transition for both of them to sleep apart, but keeping them in the same room helped….and Dad’s occasional nighttime leakage from his incontinence underwear did not wake Mom for the first time in about two years.  We also fitted Dad’s hospital bed with an adjustable Bed Rail, to both minimize his nighttime wandering, and to assist his getting to and from the bed.  Next was the first floor guest bathroom – it became “their” bathroom, and required a not so inexpensive standing shower stall – converting it from a half bath to a full sized bathroom.  We also installed a floor to ceiling pole (for transitioning from the shower) and various grab bars (inside the shower and by the sink) to assist in their bathroom mobility.   After Mom endured some issues in getting up from the toilet, we added a toilet safety frame to minimize middle of the night calls for help.  One of the biggest assists to my parents was to install motion sensor lighting – both in the hallways and inside of the bathroom.  We don’t realize how diminished sight (especially at night) can affect a senior’s ability to safely navigate their home environment.  My husband and I soon began to settle in with my parents sleeping schedules: their nighttime bathroom runs no longer awoke us from a dead sleep, and our nocturnal selves’ adjusted somewhat – deep sleep continues to elude me as I listen for any calls for help, or for when my Dad is confused and wandering.

As we ALL adjusted to the changes, I next focused my attention to my parents’ doctor’s visits, wellness checks, medications and medication schedules.  Each visit and subsequent blood / cholesterol / blood pressure / blood thinner / anti-coagulant test spawned a ripple effect across their respective spectrum of medications, dosages and effects.  The only way I could somewhat help them manage was to keep an old-fashioned journal notebook.  Once medication dosages and schedules were stable, I purchased a MedCenter pill dispenser (with Alarm) for each of them and this has helped greatly- and Mom is still able to manage the allocation of meds for both she and Dad.  
My working for has helped tremendously in getting Dad his incontinence supplies – I was able to work directly with Customer Care to first sample various brands and sizes to find what fit him best, and what worked best.  (We eventually settled on Tena Briefs for his daytime use, and Molicare Super Briefs for his nighttime use).  After getting a good understanding of utilization rate for these supplies, I set up a subscription for both items with Parentgiving using their Dry Direct ordering system.  The order ships on whatever frequency we decide, and we order by the case to minimize cost – Parentgiving sends an email when the order is about to ship, and the shipping time is usually one to business days.  We also order flushable wipes, latex free gloves, and Baza Protect Cream (to keep Skin Dermatitis at bay).  With Parentgiving’s super-fast ship times (everything usually arrives in one to two business days), I am able to order as needed and the convenience of these supplies arriving at my door is a Godsend.

Taking care of my parents, under my roof, has not been without its challenges.  Dad has fallen and still wanders at night, and we are considering bringing in a professional caregiver on a part-time basis to assist for overnights.  Going from semi-empty nesters to bringing in two additional adults (with caregiving needs) has been stressful and has required extreme amounts of patience (for which I am ever grateful to my husband) – but there really is no alternative at this time.  We know Dad (and Mom) will eventually require full-time, institutional care, but the longer we hold off that reality, the greater chance we can support it financially – and knowing that I did my personal best to love and care for these very important people, within my own home, for a good stretch of time, provides a great sense of peace.

Michelle Thompson
Michelle works for when she's not caring for her father. When not at work or around the house, she loves the ocean and to travel!

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