Monday, February 15, 2010

Aging Parents & the Quality of Life

Aging. The natural progression of life.

What happens, though, when an elderly parent becomes ill, has a stroke or heart attack, a broken hip, dementia/alzheimers, or any number of ailments? Life as they know it has changed - possibly, forever. They need assistance with things they've done for themselves for years: dressing, bathing, eating, using the toilet. They may be hard of hearing or have problems with their vision. Their balance is compromised making a cane or walker their "new best friend". Not only does their life change... but often the lives of their children or grandchildren change as well. POA and DNR are terms one becomes familiar with at this stage of life.

My grandfather was 80 years old when I was born. He was always an "old man". He still lived by himself on the farm & cared for himself. My brother & I would go to the farm with our dad and spend time with Grandpa. We'd watch television with him - the volume turned WAY up - and he'd sit a couple feet from the screen. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but one day he came to live with us. He spent most of his days sitting in the recliner in our living room. As he got older, he had to use a walker to help steady himself. Although he was more than 90 years old, he still played Scrabble with his younger sister (both of them could beat me without even trying!). His mind was sharp. He went to church every Sunday until it became too difficult for him to go up the stairs to the sanctuary. When I was in high school he had a couple falls & we, as a family, couldn't go anywhere for more than a couple hours without having to have someone come in to care for him. My parents made the difficult decision to move him to a nursing home where he lived the rest of his life. It hurt me to see this man, my grandpa, failing to thrive. I visited him one time while he was in the nursing home because I couldn't stand to see him like that. His quality of life there was very poor I thought.

My parents (see post from May 2009) were in a car accident. By the looks of their car... they should've been hurt much worse than they were. Physical therapy & ongoing exercise has helped them.

My father-in-law recently had a stroke. Not a severe stroke... but it did affect his balance and left him quite weak. The stroke has affected his short term memory. He can recall events that happened when he was a boy but couldn't tell you what he did yesterday. (To be fair, I couldn't tell you what I did yesterday!) He was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's. Prior to having the stroke, he had had his eyes tested: cataracts in both eyes, macular degeneration in one, little to no peripheral vision. Laser surgery will correct the cataracts - but he's dragging his feet. Things he enjoyed doing - reading the paper and Reader's Digest, watching television, playing cards - all affected by the cataracts. He used to enjoy cooking - but now can't stand long enough to stand at the stove... and has forgotten to turn off burners - burning a couple pans pretty badly! I'm not sure if this is a product of the old age or the stroke - but he has some incontinence. He had been using a cane to assist in walking but since having the stroke he now uses a walker. He naps - a lot! Moans - a lot! He has mentioned a couple times that he's "ready" and reminds us of his "plans".

Having this stroke has not just affected my father-in-law. My sister-in-law lives with him but she can't be with him 24/7 because she works. She is under a lot of stress and now we're trying to help out. Jerry has gone to stay with him - to be sure he does his physical therapy exercises, to help him however he needs and provide some company for him and to hopefully alleviate some of the stress his sister has been under.

Only God knows how many days my father-in-law has left. We just want to make sure that those days are as good as the rest of his days were.

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