It is one of the hardest things in life to watch a loved one, be they a parent, sibling, friend or partner lose control of their health and lives. No matter whether it is due to old age or illness both mental and physical, trying to do the right thing for them will always be difficult and often heartbreaking. We try to hold off making those hard life changing decisions by believing we can help and support them, and perhaps for a time we can. But the more their condition deteriorates, the harder the situation becomes until you find you are no longer coping yourself. The limited sleep, the lack of ‘me’ time giving you no chance to recuperate, leads to your own health issues developing, as anxiety for both you and the loved one you are caring for grows intensively and stress starts to take its toll.
In the case of mental illness such as dementia, reality often blurs as communication becomes nonsensical and confusing and tempers begin to flare as understanding fails. It is particularly difficult for family members as often the closeness from this familiarity creates easy targets to throw ones frustrations and fears. We are never more ourselves than when we are with family, so when one is comfortable it is normal to feel safe to communicate all thoughts of insecurities and confusion. Unfortunately much of the time as the stress increases this communication is often spoken in anger and can be quite negative and damaging. Often parents begin to resent children for taking on more and more as they themselves slowly lose their independence. They are naturally frightened as their world slowly gets smaller and their control of their own life diminishes. It is also difficult for the child who has now become the parent. This role reversal can create a very difficult situation both emotionally and physically, especially if the carers, particularly those with the elderly parents, are not young themselves or have their own family and work responsibilities to deal with.
It is a problem that both my sister and I have been coping with for the last 5 years since the death of our mother. Dad’s dementia accelerated early this year after a serious fall in the garden and he hit his head. Unfortunately dad was always falling over as he refused to wear the shoes we gave him, refused to use his walker or even use a walking sick. He generally became so stubborn he refused anything we asked. He began to resent us for ‘taking over his life.’ As he became more delusional and objectionable it became more and more obvious that we simply did not have the environment or skills to keep him safe. We would often find him wandering outside in the middle of the night, or trying to wave cars down in the street. Our large 32 acre block was filled with obstacles that threatened dad’s safety. If we tried to lock the doors in the house, or put padlocks on the gates to keep him within the smaller fenced in garden dad would simply start bashing anything he could find against the locks. His temper became quite alarming and unpredictable as his control diminished and his frustration grew.
It was after another fall, and another couple of weeks in hospital to recover, that my sister and I began to have the difficult discussion of putting dad into a nursing home. It was clear that we could not give him the safety and protection that he needed and we were both heartbroken. We had moved up from Sydney to take care of dad and ensure that he could live out his life in his house with his beloved dog. To put him in a home meant that we had failed, or at least that is how we felt. The argument between us was emotional and upsetting, but we ended up talking to a few nursing homes to work out our options.
It was when we spoke to Caren from Masters Lodge that we finally saw a little light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Caren suggested that we put dad into a home for a period of respite to see how he went. I visited several homes within the region, but it was the comfortable, friendly atmosphere of Masters Lodge that decided me. The curtains, wooden doors, cosy gardens would be familiar surroundings for my dad. The locked, but open feel Ward would give dad the security that his own home could not. After a week in the home, both my sister and I knew that we had made the right decision. While dad had been in the hospital he had stopped eating and had lost a staggering 4 kilos in the 2 week period. That kind of weight loss in a 90 year old man who weighs little enough as it is was quite distressing. He was also very lethargic and extremely confused and anxious.
By the end of the first week at Masters Lodge dad was again eating all his meals and asking for second deserts. The staff and volunteers sat with him to ensure that he ate his meals. They also got him talking again, and although at first much of it made little sense the trained nurses and carers listened patiently and offered him assistance in a way that he accepted without resentment. It is comforting to watch the staff caring for dad and seeing them react and talk to him as an individual, not just ‘some crazy old man in a home.’ The staff truly try to understand dad’s likes and dislikes. My dad loves hats, and now has a whole hatstand full of them to choose from. He has always worked with computers and was missing using keyboards which found him playing the piano in one of the recreation rooms. Needless to say the music was not the priority but watching him use his fingers on the keys was amazing. One of the nurses also then brought in an old electric typewriter that she had at home for him to use. That kind of caring is as much mind blowing as it is heart soothing.
The team at Masters Lodge is remarkable. Everyone from the volunteers to nurses to management make the residents their priority which is a great relief to me. I know my dad is being cared for when a volunteer makes a special trip to a travel agent to find a brochure that has something about dad’s home town, Rothenburg Germany, in it. Dad treasures that brochure and speaks proudly to everyone about his home town. He also enjoys many of the activities planned by Tracey the homes Diversional Therapist, a lovely lady whose commitment, understanding and love of the residents is amazing. Dad is kept occupied with craft activities, walks in gardens, cooking classes and a great selection of music and movies. He also goes out regularly on trips to the botanical gardens, cafes by the beach for morning tea and walks in the local parks. Dad absolutely loves his new home and is thriving in it. The only thing that he does miss is his dog, but Masters Lodge allows free access for pets to visit and we take up that opportunity twice a week to bring dad and his German shepherd Nikki together for a cuddle and play. The smile it brings to both dad’s face and the other residents is simply beautiful.
It is also comforting knowing that dad is receiving the professional care he needs, with the staff ensuring dad takes his medication on time, arranges hearing tests, doctors visits and flu shots. Should any drama occur, the staff are quick to contact us and reassure us that all is well. Masters Lodge and its love and care of its residents has taken one of the most stressful and heartbreaking times of my life and made it bearable. It may not have been our first choice to put dad in a home but the decision was made so much easier by seeing how happy he is and how much care and attention he is receiving. He is doing so many more things now than my sister and I could have ever done with him. He is surrounded by people to talk to, laugh with and do things with. And he loves it! Most importantly he is happy, well cared for and safe.
Thanks Masters Lodge for making a difficult decision easy!
Marianne Kresse – Fraser Coast Beacon, Issue 6