PERSONAL CHAT – DEALING WITH AGING PARENTS
Today I’m going to talk about something personal for me, and I feel like it’s something, a topic that’s not really talked about a lot and that I haven’t experienced a lot of support around, or a lot of places that I can go turn to, to get some advice on. So, it’s the topic of aging parents…
One of the topics very close to my heart is the topic of aging parents. My dad is fine. He is nearly 78. He is good, but it is forgetfulness. Although my mother on the other hand, has been very unwell for a very long time. In fact, I would say as far back as 25 years. She had a psychotic episode 25 years ago and has struggled with mental health issues and most recently, five years ago, she had a stroke and we had to then put her into an age care facility aka a nursing home. She has come a long way though, you know, they gave her 48 hours to survive, and she had defied all the odds. I’m sure she’s got nine lives, that woman and is now five years down the track. But it is a challenge not only for her, but it is also a very big challenge for her life because it can be cruel sometimes. She had bowel cancer prior to the stroke and then was given all clear from bowel cancer and had a stroke. About 12 months later, her stroke has debilitated her, made her disabled, given her a disability, she’s paralyzed down her right side and has lost her ability to speak. She was able to speak and was improving her speech with some private therapy pre covid. But unfortunately, during covid, nursing homes were in lockdown and they were not allowed visitors and my mom was left to her own devices a lot of the time. And only the staff there to communicate with her speech over time has deteriorated to the point now where she can say very, very little. One of the things that she does say, and we often have a bit of a laugh and a joke about it because what else have you go to do. You’re either going to cry or laugh about it. But one of the words that she says repeatedly is wee, wee, wee, wee, wee. We, when she is trying to get something out that she wants to tell us, and we often say, do you need to go to the toilet? Is that what you’re trying to tell us? Do you need to go to the toilet? And that usually brings out a laugh or a cry depending on the mood that my poor mother is in at that particular time. And like, can you imagine, you know, having your loved ones and being around people and not being able to tell them anything, not being able to respond to anything and her mind is sharp. She doesn’t have dementia. She still knows a hundred percent what is going on. She is probably a little bit dulled and numbed from all the medication that she’s on, but she still is pretty sharp and knows exactly what is going on. You can say a joke and she’ll still have a laugh. She still gets it, but she just can’t respond and have communication. It’s heartbreaking. If one of your senses could go, I would not want speech to go.
I mean that is what we are all designed for as humans is to be able to communicate and connect with others. But that said, the challenging part for me and for my sister is that we still have children at home. We are both working full-time or running businesses and just trying to balance caring and being there for, an aging parent or a high care or high needs parent, is really challenging on our, energy levels, on our emotional levels, so many different levels. It is another thing that we have got to add that, stress and the time challenges. As much as you know, I love my mother and I will always be there. It is really hard finding that time and space to be present with her. We Want to spend time with my mother. It usually means sacrificing something else. I have to sacrifice time at work. I have to sacrifice time with my children or watching their sport on the weekend. I spend a lot of time in Sydney throughout the year. My eldest boy is playing footy down there and it means not being able to get down and watch sport. And if anyone who knows me knows one thing about me is that I absolutely love sport and in particular rugby league. So it means sacrificing that and, it is sometimes exhausting trying to juggle how am I going to fit in time for each of those different things. I’m very conscious. I have had, as you all know a lot of struggles with stress and in particular, I’ve had a heart condition from chronic long-term stress, so I’m very conscious these days of managing my stress levels and making sure I’m not trying to do too much and taking care of myself in amongst taking care of everybody else around me. I need to take care of myself or I’ve got nothing left to give anybody else in my world. But this topic of dealing with aging parents, and I’m sure for people my age and now generation, we’re feeling younger and younger and we are still busy in the throws of running families and businesses and working sometimes battles that come with their aging like dementia and Alzheimer’s and disabilities puts a whole new layer and responsibility on us as their children. It’s not something that I guess we’ve been educated on or people have really talked about a lot. Like how do we, how do we do it?
How do we juggle it all and balance it all and not feel guilty? And that is probably the biggest struggle for me. I feel guilty. I feel guilty if I’m not there for my mother. I feel guilty if I’m not there with my children. and I feel guilty if I’m not, you know, running my businesses because that is how I need to be running businesses cause I still need to be paying bills and mortgages and school fees. It’s a lot of guilt. So if anyone, you know, can offer any advice or can empathize or share this issue with me I would love to hear from you because there is no support groups or I haven’t seen, come across any platforms that can, talk you through some of these challenges and offer some solutions to the challenges that we have.
But I guess another side to, to this conversation and then I would like to offer some advice to anyone who is going through or wants to prepare for something, who knows their parents are aging and they’re not in great health. One of the best things that we did with our mother before she got really unwell, before she had her bowel cancer, we took her into a solicitor and got her to sort out her will. An enduring power of attorney, which basically gives my sister and I power to make decisions for my mom if she was incapacitated, if she had dementia, if she had Alzheimer’s, and she was unable to make decisions for herself, it allows us the authority to make decisions for her. The third thing we did, which a lot of people don’t talk about, is called an advanced healthcare directive. And this basically, while somebody is still a sound of mind, they are able to make their healthcare decisions for themselves. So this is great in, in a couple of ways. The first way is that it takes responsibility off your loved ones so that you don’t have to make difficult decisions that can be traumatizing, that, you can feel a lot of guilt over. Did I make the right decision? Did I not make the right decision? The person making the advanced care directive gets to put all of their wishes in writing and it is, legally binding document that is signed off by a solicitor. So their wishes coming towards end of life if they had to go into palliative care, if they were on life support, all of those decisions are made while they are still sound of mine. So, we have had to put that into effect with my mother. While she was having her bowel cancer surgery, her bowel actually burst inside of her and she ended up with septicemia. Now, if anyone is not familiar with septicemia, it’s a very serious infection. Not a lot of people survive it, especially not when it’s Yuba involved. And so my mother was on life support. She was in a coma and, I think for about a week that advanced healthcare directive was a, lifesaver for my sister and I because obviously we were already going through all the emotions. We were traumatized, we were just in shock and what that did was alleviated a lot of the stress from us having to make some really hard decisions because my mom’s wishes should it get to certain stages of her healthcare, we knew exactly what she wanted us to do. Thankfully it worked out well and another one of my mother’s lives kicked into gear and she fought it and came back stronger and went on to live the next chapter of her life. So those three things, wills, power of attorney and advanced healthcare, healthcare directive. If you have got aging parents and even for yourself, I’ve put those three things in place for myself now as well because I don’t want my children to have to be traumatized or live with the guilt of having to make those decisions for me Or your husband or your partner. I think it is really important, to think about that. And this might be a confronting subject and a lot of people, we don’t want to talk about this sort of stuff, but it is really important, especially as our parents are coming to that stage of their lives as well and making things easier and better, I hate saying the word easier because it sounds like you don’t want to have to deal with it, but dealing with it now will make it easier if any of you get to that stage later on.
So, I just sort of wanted, I just wanted to share something a bit more personal. It is a topic that I do struggle with. Finding that balance, finding that integration of caring for my mother and supporting my mother, and then still doing all the other things that you’ve got to fit into our busy lives. It just adds a whole other layer of stuff, of things of responsibility. So if anyone else can relate, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Reach out if this is a struggle for you as well and you need some support as well.