April 3, 2013

About a year ago, my sister and I made a pact to remain united and not let issues surrounding our aging parents get in the way of our loving relationship. Last week, we broke that pact.

When Dad suddenly went off of his dementia drugs due to a change in coverage under his low-income prescription program, some wild things started happening. Having just finished the tedious process of putting an application in for a Veteran’s Home, I turned to my sister to make an appointment and take Dad to the neurologist, who is an hour from both of our homes. While she did make the appointment, she called me to say she had a hair appointment at the only date and time that the neurologist could see him.

I nearly hung up the phone. “Hair appointment?” I fumed.

“You don’t understand…you should see my roots,” she whined, noting that an annual charity benefit she was attending was the following week.

I sat on the other end of the phone in stunned disbelief. After taking a deep breath, I told her to cancel whatever appointment she felt was appropriate to cancel, and hung up. The weekend came and went, and I seethed. Hair appointment? Seething is not a good look, or a good feeling. Not only did I hate my seething, I equally detested the fact that the dementia was causing a rift between my sister and I, and that we had broken our pact.

For the record, there are four children in our family, but only two who have taken an interest in Dad. Our younger brother is off the hook, as he is caring for and living with Mom. Our sister in Florida is, well, our sister in Florida. Enough said.

Ironically, my Dad was refusing to go “to that damned doctor,” and the day before the neurologist visit, the receptionist from the doctor’s office called to say they had to cancel the appointment. The stars were aligned for my sister – and her graying roots.

I spoke to the neurologist by phone, and we were able to get Dad’s meds increased and he is slowly getting back on track with where he had been before going off the drug.  But where does that leave the sisters?

We talked by phone, made up and vowed to renew the pact and to even refer to “our pact” the next time we are faced with helping an aging parent or meeting one of our needs.

The dynamics of any family are complicated, but those complexities are magnified when Dad is roaming, or Mom refuses to eat the right things despite her diabetes. A support system, including the core family unit, is critical when caring for a senior loved one who has physical or mental health issues. If a family member cannot help due to distance or personal obligations, he or she should be encouraged to write letters, telephone regularly, and even provide financial support to allow the family to secure in-home care providers.

To borrow a line from Oprah, “what I know for sure” is that unity is key to getting through challenging times, and good communication is critical to remaining unified while figuring out what is best for our loved ones. 

Tags:  dementia, family, interaction