I didn’t know what to write about tonight. I sat down at my computer, and checked my Facebook home page. My sister and a friend shared a video post. Based on their comments, I felt compelled to watch. I invite you to do the same. It isn’t a professional video but the message is clear and true. If you’ve cared for an aging parent or loved one, you will no doubt agree.
Since my mom passed away in January, 2009, I’ve thought a lot about her suffering with Alzheimer’s. It is a hideous disease. “Alzheimer’s disease becomes more common as people get older. Today it affects more than 5.3 million Americans, according to estimates from the Alzheimer’s Association. As we baby-boomers move through retirement, that number could soar to more than 11 million by 2040. One out of eight people age 65 or older has Alzheimer’s. The number of people with the disease doubles for every 5-year age interval beyond age 65.” (from HBO’s The Alzheimer’s Project)
When her illness began advancing, we spent a lot of time with Mom. My sister and I spent much of our free time performing various caregiver duties — cleaning shopping, doing laundry, taking her to appointments, and other things. We counted much of that “task” time as visiting time. Early in her disease, she required less of our time which allowed us more time for quality visiting. As the disease continued to progress, we spent more and more of our time on the tasks and less time actually visiting — just sitting and talking and being.
When she was no longer able to live alone, we moved her to St. Ann’s Community. I’ve written before about the wonderful care she received. At first, when she lived at The Heritage, a more independent setting, we were still helping her with daily tasks. Eventually, we bathed and groomed her. She was a proud woman, and Donna and I felt it was less invasive for us to help her than her aides. When she moved over to the nursing home, we could no longer do the things we did before. The level of care she required by that time left us helpless. We turned to her caregivers, grateful for their compassion and support.
Over the last two years, I’ve given a lot of thought to giving back. The volunteer application for St. Ann’s sits on my desk, ready for me to complete. For whatever reasons, I haven’t reached the point at which I feel ready to help others like Mom. So many older people who live in nursing homes do not have family that regularly visits. The kindness of a hug, a short visit and sometimes a small treat of candies or cookies thrills most residents, especially those with little or no regular family presence.
I can’t decide how I want to help people with Alzheimer’s but I know I want to do something. Next week I am attending the “Little Purple Dress Luncheon,” a benefit for the local Alzheimer’s Association. I hope the keynote speaker inspires the audience. Whether I volunteer at St. Ann’s or with the Alzheimer’s Association, I know I must act. I can’t wait any longer. I will always be busy and think I don’t have time.
I suppose it was fortuitous that this video should pop up today. I remember Mom’s struggles and the struggles of other residents. Enough waiting, it’s time to give back to the generation that gave me so much.