Gayle has always liked knowing her options right off the bat. “I want to make a decision before it has to be made, if I can,” she asserts. “Unfortunately, you can’t anticipate everything that happens. I certainly never anticipated any of this.”
Gayle’s husband Jim will celebrate his 85th birthday this year. Each year he remembers his birthday, but he has a difficult time remembering his age. Vascular dementia is the culprit, and has been the determining factor in many of the decisions that Gayle has made for herself and her husband for quite some time.
After caring for Jim through two bouts of cancer, countless surgeries, TIAs (transitive ischemic attacks), and progressing cognitive impairment, Gayle finally sought help about a year and a half ago. “I know Jim’s children would help me, but I don’t want them to feel obligated to do so. They’re not located near us, and they all have busy lives and children of their own,” she says.
Gayle’s financial advisor introduced her to the head of a geriatric case management program at a local hospital, and this valuable resource helped her put things into perspective. That was when she connected with Comfort Keepers and began the process of hiring in-home services to help her with Jim.
“I haven’t tried any other agencies,” she notes. “Once you find somebody that’s helpful and kind and willing to do the things that you need done, why would you go somewhere else?”
The Early Years
Early in their marriage, Jim developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for the first time. “That was my first real experience taking care of him,” Gayle recalls. “The medication is as debilitating as the disease, so that took a year out of our lives.”
The couple lived independently in an active community for the next nine years, but then Gayle began noticing that Jim was acting a bit odd. He underwent annual cognitive testing for the next few years in order to see how quickly the impairment was progressing. His condition remained steady at first, but subsequent surgeries caused him to decline rapidly. Gayle remained his sole caregiver.
Although personality and behavioral issues can be common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Jim still tries to dote on his wife like he always has. Paired with a dementia patient’s tendency to repeat things and Jim’s need for careful supervision, these offers tend to be more of a nuisance to Gayle than anything.
She isn’t alone in her exasperation. Dementia of any type poses serious challenges to caregivers and family members as they adjust to their loved one’s often-dramatic transformations.
Seeking Extra Help
After years of spearheading Jim’s care, last year Gayle decided it was time to seek out help. Their continuing care retirement community (CCRC) offers various levels of care on-site, including assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care, but she opted for home care. Sleep deprivation and constant concern about Jim’s whereabouts led Gayle to decide that assistance in their own home was the right answer.
The transition to accepting outside help was a gradual one. The first services that the couple utilized following their initial consultation with Comfort Keepers were transportation and companionship. These services began shortly after Jim realized he needed to surrender his driver’s license. Losing the ability to drive is a common threat to an aging loved one’s independence, and he enjoyed getting out of the house. Forfeiting his license jeopardized his ability to contribute to the household and enjoy himself.
The loss of Jim’s license was actually a blessing in disguise. Transportation services through the home care company enabled Jim to preserve his independence and his routines, have a life outside of his home, and socialize with others. A slow transition also allowed Jim to become acquainted with his caregivers on a casual basis initially, which then made the addition of more services much smoother. Not to mention, it enabled Gayle to normalize her everyday routine and enjoy some much needed respite.
Refreshing Routines: Home Care Can Help Restore Normalcy
The care plan that Gayle initially devised with the care coordinator at Comfort Keepers gradually evolved as Jim’s need grew. A typical day for Jim and his caregivers includes lunch together and a task to accomplish—usually grocery shopping. While they are out and about, Gayle is able to meet with friends and enjoy her hobbies without worry.
Jim now receives care on weekdays and occasionally on weekends. The caregivers are adaptable and willing to accommodate the continual changes that come with his condition. “They’re very flexible and very concerned about me—what’s going to work for me,” Gayle says of the care team and their priorities. “I don’t worry about Jim when they’re with him.”
Communication is the foundation of an honest relationship with the professionals who are responsible for a loved one’s care. “We talk a lot. If they have a question while they’re out or something, they’ll send me a text,” says Gayle. “They’re all wonderful. It’s just like having another member of the family.” She is so satisfied with her decision to hire in-home care that the couple is bringing one of their caregivers along on an upcoming trip to visit family.
Preplanning, Communication and Support
Gayle and Jim are fortunate that they were proactive about their future early on in their lives. They purchased a long-term care insurance policy that has paid for Jim’s in-home care and will continue to cover his needs as they increase with the progression of his dementia.
Caring for a loved one encompasses a wide range of responsibilities, but fretting over how to make ends meet and provide quality care should not have to be added to a caregiver’s plate. Thoughtful planning and preparation is the easiest way to alleviate unnecessary stress down the line.
Moral support is also crucial. Sometimes the latest technology can make caregiving easier, but traditional support groups are still a valuable source of information and encouragement. Gayle urges other caregivers to seek out this indispensable resource. “It’s a lifeline; it really is. If anybody doesn’t attend a local support group, I would certainly encourage them to find one. If nothing else, we pick up little tips on how to do stuff.”
Gayle and Jim have devised a routine that works very well for them, and in-home care has been pivotal in restoring balance in their lives. Even though she isn’t the one directly receiving the services, Gayle is benefiting from them as much as Jim is, if not more.