I've developed a new philosophy . . . I only dread one day at a time.
Charlie Brown (Charles Schulz)
While I was sleeping last night things were going on at my parent's house that could have ended badly. That's the way it is with caregiving. Just when you think you can relax, something happens - or almost happens. What could have happened last night was that my mother could have fallen after taking an extra dose of Benadryl in the middle of the night. The other thing that could have happened was that my dad could have fallen when my mom talked him into going downstairs to get her that extra Benadryl. The final thing that could have happened was that the live-in caregiver (E.) could have quit in disgust because my mom and dad repeatedly ignore her advice and do things they shouldn't - usually when she's sleeping.
My sister got a phone call from E. this morning at 6:30 a.m. (Central Time). My sister phoned me later in the morning to tell me what happened. My first thought was "oh, shit, just when things seemed to be going better." My mom fell and fractured her hip at a similar time in December - things had settled into a comfortable routine with E. and Mom hadn't had any medical crisis for several months. My sister and I were just heaving sighs of relief, when - Bang!- Mom fell and fractured her hip. What can we do to prevent such nasty surprises? Probably not much. The best we can hope for is to give Mom and Dad the information they need to make better choices. Will they make better choices? A 50-50 proposition, at best.
To get back to my mom and the Benadryl, Mom went to the ER a few mornings ago because she was having a panic attack and felt, in her words, "really, really bad." There apparently wasn't anything obviously wrong with her. Despite that, the doctor she saw recommended that she take Benadryl. Good idea? No, terrible idea. Benadryl is a poor choice for seniors. To add insult to injury, the doctor who recommended Benadryl was working in the Seniors' ER. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Both my sister and I told Mom that Benadryl didn't seem like a good idea to take because it would make her drowsy and increase her risk of falling. We thought - silly us - that we had talked Mom into reducing her dose. Instead, sometime during the middle of the night, Mom woke up and demanded another Benadryl.
Sometime after 11 p.m. and before 7 a.m. , Dad went down the stairs in the dark - or I suspect it was dark because he rarely turns on the hall light. He walked down the (dark) stairs, went into the kitchen and found a Benadryl and went back upstairs. Ironically, one of the main reasons for falls in the elderly is lack of sleep, so he was trying to get himself some sleep by giving Mom another Benadryl, which was increasing her own risk of falling. Sadly, Mom is more likely to get seriously injured in a fall than Dad, at least she's more likely to fracture a hip again. Aren't you worrying too much, you might ask. Maybe. However, when Mark Twain, or whoever it was, said, "I have spent most of my life worrying about things that never happened," they either didn't have aging parents or they were damned lucky. Many of the things my sister and I have worried about have happened, and things that it never occurred to us to worry about have happened too.
What's the moral of this story? Choose one (or more).
- You can't trust aging parents with (or without) cognitive decline to go to the hospital alone.
- Many doctors seem woefully uninformed about what medicines seniors should be taking.
- Nurses are great. (It was the nurse who caught the problem and let my sister know about it.)
- It's challenging to relax and enjoy your own life while you're helping to care for aging parents.
- You have to accept the fact that you can't always keep your aging parents safe.
- Shit happens, especially in the middle of the night.
These hard facts increase the stress load of caregivers. Here are some tips for coping with that stress.
I had been relaxed enough during the past two weeks to begin another blog called Digging Out to document the progress I was making in getting my life back on track. Today is my sister's anniversary. She and her husband have booked a table at a place that makes great martinis. They're still going, but it might not be as easy to relax as it was yesterday. Especially, after midnight, when E. will be in bed and who knows what my parents will be doing.