Alzheimer's Awareness Month is the international campaign every September to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia. Based on recent studies, 1 in 10 Americans will develop Alzheimer's, so chances are that you or someone close to you is walking through life with a loved one suffering from loss of memory and other heartbreaking side effects. This topic is close to my heart, as our family watched Alzheimer’s steal the mind of my maternal Grandmother.
Grandma was truly the sweetest, most helpful and fun woman. Like the “energizer bunny”, she was always on the go, full of life and laughter. As a school teacher, she loved each child who came into her classroom. And as a couple, she and Grandpa spent more than sixty years pouring into the people around them. They were a one-of-a-kind couple and I’m forever grateful for the heritage they left our family.
I remember well Thanksgiving 1999, all gathered at Grandma’s house for the traditional big lunch. Walking into the kitchen, I knew something was wrong. My mom and her sisters were talking in hushed tones. Grandma had forgotten how to make her delicious Thanksgiving dishes—ones she’d made by memory for decades. Not only that, but they were comparing notes on the dozens of conversations they’d individually had with her, but that she’d forgotten.
Since my Aunt Margaret took Grandma into her home and cared for her for three years, I asked her several questions about Grandma’s battle with Alzheimers. Her honest answers were so helpful and encouraging that, whether or not this journey directly applies to you, she gives insight and offers suggestions on how to respond to a friend caring for aging parents.
HEATHER: What steps did you take after noticing Grandma’s memory loss?
MARGARET: In the days following that Thanksgiving in ‘99, Grandpa was healthy and able to be her primary caregiver, even through the breast cancer treatment she also battled during the early stages of Alzheimer’s. My sisters and I met to discuss the future and helped them down-size and moved them closer to their daughter in Dallas. After a couple of years, it was clear they needed more care so we moved them from Dallas to Oklahoma City. They lived in Baptist Village, then Hefner Mansions, receiving wonderful care at both places. Each time we foresaw a move, my sisters and I visited and researched, then God led us to their next level of care. Once Grandpa passed away in 2005, we knew a big change was needed.
H: How did you decide to move Grandma into your home?
M: At first, we moved her into our home temporarily, when Grandpa had surgery. He passed away shortly after and we agreed she didn’t need more change all at once. After a few months, through a series of three separate conversations in a matter of hours, God confirmed it was best for her to stay with us long-term and we wouldn’t trade the time she lived with us. We had so many sweet moments and lots of laughs.
Our house was a perfect set-up, with a single-story, mother-in-law plan. We only needed to make small adjustments, like putting a “Closed” sign on the refrigerator to keep her from raiding it during the night. She was always sweet and wanted to be helpful, so I would give her loads of clean towels out of the cabinet to fold and silverware to hand-wash. She loved watching and singing along to The Sound of Music daily.
In 2008 the disease had progressed to the point that she really needed constant supervision, for her safety. I cried many tears, but also knew it was time and would be best for her. During this inner battle, a friend who worked in the medical field gently said, “sometimes the kindest thing we can do for our loved one is to move them to a place where they have all the care they need.”
H: How did you all choose the right facility for Grandma?
M: We had several criteria: location, warmth, a staff that was caring and experienced, and an environment that was clean and inviting. We looked at several places, all within a short drive from my house. Usually I had tears in my eyes during the tours and then would have a big cry in the car afterward. When we toured Heritage Assisted Living, we just knew it was the right place. Convinced this was the best decision for Mother, we started to move forward. My sisters came and helped with the move and one of them spent the first night with her in her new home. That was a huge help! We had fun decorating her room and putting up treasured pictures with her late husband of 61 years, her children and grandchildren. She lived there a year and three months before she went home to Heaven. That very difficult decision of moving her was the best and right decision. She was cared for and loved at that facility, and several of the workers even came to her funeral.
H: What would you say to someone facing these decisions with a loved one?
M: A friend recommended the book, The 36-Hour Day, and it was a great help. I would also say that keeping a loved one in your home is not for everyone. The husband and wife need to be in complete agreement about that decision. Often, the best place is a loving, caring assisted living facility.
If you are walking with a friend who is helping their aging parents, I’d love to add some things that aren't helpful for caregivers to hear, such as: "This must be so hard" or "You know things are only going to get worse." Instead, encourage them with: "Your mother or father would really appreciate what you're doing" or "Could I pick up something at the grocery store for you?" Or simply offer to help in other practical ways.
One of the biggest blessings for us was a sweet lady about Mother's age who offered to come every Monday night so we could go out to dinner. We also had help from family and friends, and we will be forever grateful for that. It was such an incredible blessing to have Mom live with us. We still quote her funny sayings almost every day! We learned so much through that journey and wouldn't trade it for anything.
Council Road ladies, we hope this post has been an encouragement to you if you are walking this road with a parent, or want to provide help and support to a friend who is in in this place. We are on this journey together and have women in our ministry who have taken care of aging parents and would be more than happy to offer support and encouragement to you. Please let our Women’s Minister, Vickey Banks, know if you’d like to talk with someone and she can connect you.
Meet the Author!
Heather McAnear is a wife, mom, author and speaker with a passion for sharing God's truth to help women understand their uniquely beautiful design and how to use it for God's glory! In fact, Heather hosts the Uniquely Beautiful Stories podcast on iTunes in hopes do just that! She loves teaching young married couples with her husband, homeschooling their three children, traveling the world, enjoying good chocolate and long conversations in coffee shops. CRBC has been her church home for two decades and she is thrilled to be part of the Women's Ministry team, helping women connect with each other and grow in their walk with Jesus!