My 91 year-old dad has been in assisted living for two years; he had a stroke five years ago, and was diagnosed with vascular dementia shortly thereafter. He had been living by himself since my mom died 13 years ago. I live 500 miles away in another state. I have his POA, and I arranged for his Veteran’s benefits as his fiduciary. I’m a widowed, childless, only child, so it’s just me and him. We talked about moving him to be closer to me, but he didn’t want to leave his friends and family who visit him often. He thinks he can still live by himself in his house; the reality is that he doesn’t remember to take medicines, he doesn’t make meals, and he hallucinates and sometimes wanders the neighborhood at night. To stay in his house, he would need someone to stay with him full-time. I wouldn’t want to try to manage an agency or private caregivers from 500 miles away. I can’t move in with him because I would have to quit my job as an IT consultant and that would jeopardize my future retirement.
The solution we’ve settled on is that he stays in the AL for three weeks each month, and I work at my job back at my house. One week each month, I pack up my laptop and drive to his old house (which stands empty the other three weeks) and pick him up from AL and bring him back to his house for the week. I work from his kitchen table, while he watches TV or does his house chores like sweeping the porch or tending his plants. I cook and he washes the dishes; this isn’t “show timing”, he does this consistently every week. We have a regular restaurant tour, and I usually plan activities, such as ball games or fishing trips.
This has worked for the past two years. He doesn’t remember what happened 10 minutes ago, so he forgets about being at the AL by the time we’ve driven away from it. I have given up on explaining to him why he can’t stay in the house by himself anymore; I just drive him back to the AL which he doesn’t recognize until he gets to his room. Then he remembers and wants to go back home. Leaving him there breaks my heart; but I know that he’s safe. I always worry that he will be a problem for the staff after I leave, or have to go through an adjustment again. I always ask the staff after I go back how he is doing or if he is any problem; they always say he’s not any problem; he’s usually forgotten about anything that happened that week. I have a caregiver from a local agency who visits him (she's my "eyes and ears" on the facility); she reports the same thing.
During this past two years, Dad’s cognitive decline has been slight, but noticeable. The staff said that he has periods where he hallucinates (thinks his wife or mom is in the hospital) and tries to leave the building. The staff said he tried this a few times last month, and they recommended moving him to the memory unit. I took him to see his behavioral neurologist and family physician; they agreed that it was a good idea since it is a more secure unit and there’s a higher staff/resident ratio. I moved him last month.
The memory unit director doesn’t think taking him home each month is a good idea. She said that Dad needs to think of the memory unit as his home now, and that what he really means by “home” is his childhood home.
I don’t agree. Dad can tell you the address, street by street directions, and show on a map where his house is. It makes him happy to be there. He built or worked on everything in the house. Now, he just talks about what he’s going to do, he’s not able to actually do any work, but at least he can be “on set” for his walks down memory lane. He says that’s where “his memory is” and “where he should be”. I can’t make it happen 100% of the time, but I can make it happen for one week a month.
I don’t want to take that away from him.
I’m preparing for a care conference when I visit next week. Any advice appreciated.