What is the toughest question you have asked someone today? Maybe it was work related, “Do you have the P.O for me?” or maybe it was personal, “Can I borrow some money?” For me, it was asking my 81-year old dad, “Hey. Do you think it’s time to maybe give up your car?” Yesterday, it was the same question.
You see, my dad has Dementia and over the last several months it has gotten progressively worse. As a result, my sister and I are having to ask some very hard questions and make some very difficult decisions. Added to the situation is that while my sister is local, I am 2,500 miles away. Needless to say, it makes it a challenge to just drop on over and help him find his mobile phone or figure out why his Wi-Fi isn’t working.
Everyone’s case with Dementia is different as it is not just one thing – although memory loss is certainly the most common symptom. If you ask my dad about the 1972 Boston Bruins Stanley Cup win, he can name every player, score, and detail. However, if you ask him what he had for breakfast an hour ago, he has no idea.
My dad is the nicest, most caring, helpful person I have ever known, and he and my mom did a great job of raising us. Now, I can only hope to repay all they did for us in their time of need.
While dealing with this is personal, it affects every aspect of my day. I am lucky to work for a company like Cisco that allows me a tremendous amount of flexibility. From co-workers that understand a last-minute shift in my schedule to my manager’s support, this all helps to make my day a little easier. My manager even helped me with resources I didn’t even know that I had!
Did you know about the Employee Assistance Program? I didn’t. My manager informed me of the program and benefits that could help my family out and it’s been a tremendous support!
As much as Cisco has helped my family and me, I’ve learned quite a bit on my own, too. Like I don’t correct my dad when he repeats himself, as that only frustrates him. I just go with the flow – a little bit of patience goes a long way in making everyone happier.
Here are a few other things I have learned in this journey.
1. Know Your Resources: Dealing with this is hard – there is no way around it. Don’t take it all on yourself. I have been amazed at the number of people willing to help my dad. Equally important has been the number of people that reached out to make sure I was okay.
I am so thankful that Cisco had my back during this time with Cisco’s Employee Assistance Program and The Caregiving Concierge. This, along with other benefits we have, helped me learn how to care for a family member with memory loss. I was able to research symptoms and even how to find transportation and in-home assistance for my dad, which helped me maintain a relatively normal life and was cathartic for me to easily get this help for him.
2. Ask the Tough Questions: This has become a regular occurrence for us. Asking your parents if they have a will, or plans should they need assistance, or what their final wishes are awful to think about – but they are necessary. We are lucky that my mom has taken care of all of this and provided us the information we need, but we have found ourselves having to ask some of these questions of my Dad. It is stressful, and it is something I think is important to start doing as early as possible. There are many great articles out there. Spend a little time reading some before you have “the talk”. It really makes things easier.
3. Know the Depth of Your Resources: This goes beyond just Google and home health care or visiting nurses. Living so far away from my family, it’s important for me to know there are others to help my dad.
We were able to identify the friends and family that could help him with things like a ride to the store or replacing a light bulb and found great resources in the town where he lives. Ride programs that help patients get to and from the doctor’s office are great – and the local college offered an elderly assistance program! A student comes just to help with my dad’s two cats.
As my dad refuses to use a smartphone – we put a list of contacts by his phone and explained what each contact could do to help him, as well as utilized a wall calendar so he knows what is going on each day. These ‘small’ things help me to feel a little less stressed knowing we have this support.
4. Take Time for Yourself. Watching a loved one deteriorate takes a mental toll on everyone. Believe me, I have had plenty of guilt over having to rely on other people and being far away. It can become all-consuming. Find the balance. Play music – and play it loudly. Go for a drive. Go to the gym. Do something for you so that you can continue to be in the right frame of mind to provide the best support that you can for those you love.
These times are difficult, but thanks to my network of family, friends and co-workers – along with the support Cisco provides for employees – I know we are doing the best we can for my dad.
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