Taking Care of Elderly Parents – Grandpa’s Stories

Everyone laughs when they hear Grandpa’s stories. I’m not sure why because, generally, the stories we tell are not meant to be funny. Mostly, they’re about the struggles we’ve encountered since taking my 89-year-old father out of a nursing home in October of 2009 to care for him ourselves.

After talking about our new responsibilities (actually, to anyone who will listen), most people agree that if you’re able to take care of your elderly parents, it’s the right thing to do. After all, many adult children over the age of fifty will have to care for an elderly parent now or sometime in the near future.That’s why Grandpa’s stories strike a cord. They give hope to others who are going through similar situations or become poignant reminders for those who have already done their duty.

And even if someone hasn’t been there, they’re rootin’ for us all the same. If one family can keep their elderly father from wasting his golden years drooling all over his wheelchair in a drugged induced stupor, some how, some way, they might be able to keep it from happening to them, too.

Let’s face it, growing old isn’t fun. The “golden” years eventually give way to the “not so golden” years, when we become totally dependent upon others to meet our most basic needs. Seniors who have lived independently, not wanting to burden their families, suddenly find themselves at the mercy of institutions to keep them happy and healthy. However, after just a few days in the nursing home, mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, come to realize that nobody can care for them like their own family.

Daily, a steady stream of overworked and underpaid staff can be seen filing through the nursing home doors. These are the ones to whom we entrust the care of the least among us – our precious parents and grandparents. Sadly for many families, the realization that they could be or should be part of the solution for this great social injustice never dawns on them.

I am thankful for the dedicated CNA’s and nursing home staff who, above insurmountable odds, keep giving from their hearts. They have one of the hardest jobs in society. However, they can never truly replace a family who takes responsibility for the care and well being of their own.

Some like ourselves, have been given the opportunity to follow a different path, and although it seems filled with overwhelming obstacles at times, it is also a  path to tremendous blessing. The sooner individual families realize what a privilege it is to be involved in the aging process, the sooner they will find grace for the journey.

This is the story of one family’s triumph over the “me” generation. Grandpa’s stories give voice to all the families who live selflessly day in and day out, those silent heroes who care for their elderly parents without notoriety or payment. Why do they do it? For love.

Keeping Life (Relatively) Predictable

Over the months, we have acquired many new skills we never possessed before mostly through trial and error. The routines we have adopted as a family have made the difference between our household being chaotic or running smoothly. Our daily schedule not only revolves around Grandpa’s needs and energy level, but my older son and daughter’s as well. They are the ones who usually get Dad up in the morning and put him to bed at night, so everyone has to be in agreement and try to keep to the schedule as much as possible. Seniors thrive on routine and so do caregivers.

Even though schedules are important, it is also important to be flexible and enjoy one another, too. If everyone is running late, try to not rush your parent just to stay on schedule. Grandpa loves social interaction more toward evening, and he gets just as excited about eating dessert or watching a movie as a child would. He doesn’t want to miss out on anything, and it’s important for him to know that we enjoy having him around and are willing to bend the rules once in awhile just to have some family fun.

Grandpa loves when I stop in his room to say goodnight. Sometimes we pray together or sing a hymn. He often tells me what he wants to accomplish on his book the next day. Bringing closure to the day, and saying I love you, makes him feel safe and secure, and that’s what it’s all about.

When we first started taking care of Grandpa, my older daughter was a little more exacting about bed time. We all were all pretty much in shell shock and became fatigued easily at that time. Imagine going from your flexible routine as a family with older children (11 and up), to having a newborn 160 pound baby in the house. We were pretty exhausted and just needed Grandpa to stick to the schedule.

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the last three years, we don’t have to do it like the nursing home does it. We can be flexible – within reason. You just have to be careful. If you give Grandpa and inch, he’ll take a mile – and then some!

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