November is Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Awareness Month. Beyond the articles and public service announcements, there will undoubtedly be caregivers who agonize over a personal, deeply emotional question:
When is it time to let go and move my loved one out of the home?
Each case of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is different. But there are some considerations to think about and pray over as you try to evaluate and reconcile reality, resources and the deep commitment and ties that come with being a husband, wife, parent or child of someone with Alzheimer’s.
AD is progressive and fatal; there is no cure and although sometimes, if caught early, the disease can be slowed down, the person with AD’s physical and mental condition will deteriorate. The course of the disease is often years long, a phenomenon that inspired the disease’s description as, “The Long Goodbye.”
In the early stages, the person with AD might seem “able” and “normal,” but as the disease progresses, some might wander and become lost. Others might become agitated and violent.
In the later stages, the person with AD will lose the ability to communicate and take basic care of himself or herself. Especially if he or she has other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, he or she will require more significant care and professional care as the months and years go by.
AD is expensive for the individuals “in the trenches” as well as for society in general, and there are usually not enough resources, either public or private, for the growing number of people who now have AD or will be diagnosed with it. However, keeping someone with AD at home for the complete course of the disease can sometimes be as expensive as moving them to a qualified care facility.
For example, if a wife gets to the point where she cannot physically lift and move her husband, she will need outside help. If an adult child cuts his hours so that he can stay at home and care for his mother, the loss of wages can be significant.
Many home caregivers experience exhaustion, depression and other significant health problems, and the consequences of this are felt emotionally, spiritually and financially. Moreover, as a caregiver’s health deteriorates, care for the person with AD can be severely compromised, too.
During the early stages, the person with AD can often take a very active role in planning for the future. Besides making sure necessary legal documents are in place (wills, health care directives, etc.), he or she and the caregiver should discuss what to do when his or her condition requires significantly more and qualified care. It is not an easy conversation, to be sure. But it can be a blessing for both to have guidance and understanding when the time comes.
Primary care physicians can provide information about the disease and local resources available for support. The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org) have a wealth of information, resources and links to many valuable programs and activities, including support groups for caregivers.
Caring for a loved one with AD, whether at home or by visiting and managing care outside, is a blessed calling, a way to protect and respect one of God’s most vulnerable children. Respect for the caregiver’s life and health is important, too.
The question, “When is it time?” is not easy. But with love that aims for the best for all involved, there is grace, comfort and peace when the answer finally comes.
Maureen’s website is www.maureenpratt.com.