After giving up my life completely for nearly a year to go care for my elderly parents, trying to get control over my extremely rebellious father, I was advised to get them enrolled in Adult Day Care. I had absolutely no idea what that was, having no experience in eldercare, thinking it was a glorified nursing home or something. Even though my parents were still together after 58 years of marriage and in their own home with full-time care, I didn’t realize that they needed much more daily stimulation. They’d want to sleep all day and then my father would be up all night, reeking havoc, making everyone miserable. The Alzheimer’s Association helped me understand how important it was to give them something to do outside of lying in bed 23 hours a day waiting to die. Oh-okay, but how in the world was I going to get them to consent to go there?
My father fought us about it for weeks, yelling that he would, not go, NO, nooope, not going, just forget it!_ and he refused to take a shower or change his filthy coveralls for over a week. We persisted and finally got my parents there for their first day. My mother loved it, but my father was completely repulsive and tried to sabotage it. The Day Care staff kept trying to separate them because he wouldn’t leave her alone, holding on to her too tight and touching her inappropriately. Then, he threw his lunch on the floor in a raging top-of-his-lungs temper tantrum, and when that didn’t make them let Mom be with him, he went into the bathroom and tried to escape out the window. When he couldn’t get out he came out of the restroom with his coveralls unzipped exposing himself. Then, he even messed in his own pants and threw another swearing temper tantrum when they made him sit away from everyone because he smelled so bad. Four hours later when we arrived to pick them up, the social workers were completely exhausted and fed up with him, saying that he could not return because he was so disruptive.
It was no small feat and months later, but we finally got my father to accept the routine of going to Day Care. No one was more surprised than I when my parents became such shining success stories, progressing so dramatically in their behavior and strength. They are better now than they’ve been for many years and they sleep peacefully through the night, which is a blessing for everyone. The morning brings daily excitement to see the shuttle and their favorite driver come pick them up to go see all their friends. They finally have someplace to go, people to see and fun things to do.
Now that I have solved the complex mystery of managing “challenging” elders and written a book about it, I understand that any kind of change can be terribly frightening for many elders. Had the Day Care staff taken a little extra time to help me know what to do and coached me how to do it, we could have made a difficult, scary transition happen with a lot less aggravation. Ah, hindsight it’s always 20/20!
First, I’d have a social worker call my father a few times and develop a relationship with him over the phone. Then I’d have her “drop in” to say hello because she was “in the neighborhood.” Then, after taking my parents out to a relaxing lunch, I’d casually drive by the Day Care center and say, “Why don’t we drop in and say hello to that nice lady, Mary, who was so sweet to stop by the other day?” I’d have an appointment already set up so we could take a tour and meet the rest of the staff and other seniors. Then, a few days later, I’d go with my parents to lunch at the center and help the social workers make them feel comfortable. Yes, a gradual transition would have saved us all a lot of heartache.
Day Care administrators and social workers can make a huge difference to first-time caregiving adult children and spouses who are unaware of how to handle all the eldercare issues they are faced with. They are usually in a crisis, trying to manage it all, and may not be thinking clearly. Had I been told that all the daily activities would tire my parents out during the day so they’d sleep through the night, I’d have tried to get them there a lot sooner. It seems obvious to me now, but at the time it just didn’t occur to me.
Now I tell everyone who struggles to manage his or her elderly parents about the tremendous value of Adult Day Care. I smile each time I heard the same reluctance: _They would never go there, Jacqueline._ The negative stereotype of Day Care needs a major PR campaign and the caregiving professionals who take a little extra time to educate and comfort struggling families are really the ones who can make a significant difference in the lives of the patients as well as their overwhelmed caregivers.