Home is a state of mind

Published 12:09 am Thursday, September 22, 2011

Women with Alzheimer’s disease outnumber men. That means sons and husbands may need to assume care when daughters are not available or able to help.

Angus, 80, has been the primary caregiver for his wife Irene for five to six years.

As he says, “She is in the nursing home now, but it still preys on my mind. I feel like I have just dumped her off. Everyone tells me I’ve done the right thing, but it doesn’t feel good. I just wish we had talked about such things before she needed this. … Not that if she had been very against it in the past, I could do anything different.”

It took many years to decide that caring for Irene was more than Angus could handle. Irene started with problems remembering what had happened recently, and then could not remember what she should do next. Because several of her brothers and sisters had Alzheimer’s disease, the family knew what to expect.

She had always kept house and taken a lot of time with nearby children and grandchildren, and soon Angus began to worry about her using the gas stove. She agreed to stay away from the stove, although she wasn’t always so agreeable.

Sometimes she would “take spells of being very ornery.” Since Angus was retired, he cooked, cleaned and watched Irene, but doing chores outside the house was almost impossible.

More than a year ago her need “to go home” became more insistent. She carried her clothes around the house all day and piled them up beside the bed at night, asking again and again, “Why can’t I go home?”

She had been at this home for the past 30-some years. But she wasn’t at her childhood home.  Irene would bolt out of the house if Angus wasn’t watching, and she was restless day and night. Door hooks helped a little.

Angus was getting worn out. Some paid day-helpers and family came to help with bathing Irene and housekeeping. Eventually, someone had to be in the house overnight just so Angus could get some sleep. Irene’s daughter took her turns, helped with personal care and took care of her mother’s medications every day. No one could get Irene to eat properly. It was urging by home-care personnel who convinced Angus the time to act had come, so in June the papers were filed, and Irene entered a nursing home. Until all her funds are spent down, which won’t take long, the family is paying her bills.

Angus looks lonely and sad. He visits Irene regularly. He talks with her and brings special treats to eat. Irene hates to see him go. He cannot understand why people have stopped visiting, but for some folks it is just hard to know what to do with someone that can’t carry on a conversation. Just holding her hand is his comfort.

Peggy Cohn is a retired geriatric-care manager with a background in public-health nursing and degrees in family studies and aging. The stories are drawn from local caregivers of folks with Alzheimer’s disease. All caregivers and their families are anonymous to protect their privacy and dignity.