Dementia: When is the right time to look for a care home?
15 December 2015
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Families of Oceania residents
“It’s been about 20 years that it’s been coming on”, admits Judy. The “it” Judy is referring to is dementia. She still finds it hard to talk about. “I didn’t want to accept it. I was in complete denial. I didn’t want to lose my partner.”
Sandra’s mum also struggled to accept the reality of her husband’s deteriorating mental condition. “For a long time I said to mum we could look for somewhere for dad”, said Sandra, "but she kept saying she was fine. She can do it. She married him.”
Sandra’s mum and Judy have never met, but they share a common story. They cared for their husbands with dementia for many years before conceding that they couldn’t do it any longer.
For many senior New Zealanders and their families, dementia is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. The feelings of loss, guilt and isolation can be overwhelming as caregivers put the needs of the dementia sufferer before their own health and well-being for years or even decades.
The physical and mental demands of looking after a family member with dementia are often more than one person can manage – let alone a partner who is dealing with their own health issues. “My mum has had two hip replacements”, explains Sandra. “I could see that she was going downhill from the strain of looking after dad.”
Exhaustion takes over and interaction with the outside world can be dramatically curtailed. “Rod never slept”, recalls Judy. “He wouldn’t read or watch TV anymore – and any loud noise like the phone would agitate him. He didn’t want me to go out. I couldn’t leave him.”
Sandra’s dad, James, stopped driving when he no longer knew where he was. “He’d ask mum to do things she just couldn’t physically manage anymore.” Unable to cope with the noise and activity, family outings became difficult. “He’d get confused,” Sandra explains. “He could be verbally aggressive.”
The decision to put a family member into care is often triggered by an incident that pushes the caregiver to breaking point. “One day my mum called me at work and said I can’t do this anymore”, recalls Sandra. “She never told me exactly what happened but I knew I had to find a place for dad.”
Judy also struggled to accept that she could no longer look after her husband of 55 years. It was a huge relief to have the doctor make the decision for her. “He told me I was trying to do a job that was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and that I couldn’t keep going that way. I can understand anybody struggling to make the decision”, says Judy, “whether it’s their mother or father, husband or wife. My family feels the same way but it’s been a huge relief that Rod’s somewhere where he’s happy and being looked after.”
James also adjusted quickly to his new home. Sandra says he is calmer. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still pangs of guilt. “I feel relief”, admits Sandra. “And I think mum feels relief too. Sometimes mum says it’s her fault he’s there and that she should be looking after him. But I know in the long run she’s happier. She’s much more relaxed. Dad is settled. He doesn’t ask to be taken home.”
Read more about Dementia here