The past four days were a highly educational experience for me. A crazy coincidence of circumstances made it so that our household needed to care for two aging parents at the same time: my Dad, who has Parkinson’s Disease, and Marci’s Dad, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. And while it’s genuinely an honor and a privilege to be able to do this, we had a steep learning curve. But we have learned. As with any life skill, there are tricks to the “trade” of caring for aging parents. And I want to share them: both for my own future reference and for the sake of others who may benefit from this kind of information.
Changes in Scenery
One of the things that I noticed while hanging out with my Dad was the way that periodic changes in scenery can be really helpful. Most people tend towards inertia. But especially care-givers. It just feels easiest to stay at home — where everything is familiar, accessible, on hand… I remember this feeling from the time when my kids were little, and I recognized it again looking out for my Dad.
So it’s kind of counter-intuitive; still, I totally believe it’s beneficial to mix things up — especially in a care-giving situation. With my Dad, it was going for walks. Sometimes we drove to a nearby park or nature preserve. Other times, we just went out to check the mail or walk around the block. But either way, the changes in scenery seemed to invigorate us both.
Riding the Waves of Parkinson’s
I took Dad with me to Cor’s soccer game on Saturday, and I was amazed to see how sharp and fresh he seemed to be during our time at the stadium. It honestly seemed like he somehow had an “extra gear” that he can find in certain situations? He made jokes with the ticket lady… He recognized some of our close family friends immediately, and offered his gentlemanly greetings… He leaped over a railing to make his way, independently, to the concession stand and public restrooms… Several of the other soccer-parents noticed how he’s moving much better during this Fall’s Soccer Season than he was moving during last Spring’s Track season.
On the drive back to Kent, however, Dad seemed more confused again. He had a harder time finishing his sentences… He asked me where I live… He started asking again about when Mom is coming back… It kind of seemed like he somehow pulled himself together for the soccer game and then was operating at a deficit afterwards.
I don’t understand Parkinson’s well enough to base an entire treatment plan around such anecdotal evidence, but it really does seem like we had to surf the disease — riding its waves over time and adjusting to the needs of the moment. That’s not always easy, of course. But it helped me to have this mental framework for the times when it felt scary or overwhelming.
Using Technological Shortcuts
Technology can be very frustrating for older adults. But it can also be very helpful. One of the tricks, or shortcuts, we learned this weekend was how to use the Shortcuts app on my Dad’s phone to make his life easier.
I had actually been coaching my Dad through the process of opening up his phone, clicking on the phone icon, clicking to “Favorites,” and then hitting my name to place a call to me. Part-way through the practice session, though, it occurred to me that there has to be an easier way. With a little bit of internet research, I figured out how to make it so it’s super-easy for my Dad to call me (and/or my Mom) if he ever needs help. It took a few minutes to set things up, but I was able to establish an easy way to make a new icon on the Home Screen that has a picture of me with the words “Call Eric” right underneath.
All he has to do is hit that button, and he can get a hold of me. We ended up making a second shortcut that he could use to call my Mom. And it just feels so helpful for him to be able to do this so easily.
We also figured out that it was helpful for my Dad to have a plain black background on his phone’s home screen (instead of a prettier, more intricate photographic background). Seemingly anything we can do to reduce complexity and enhance clarity was appreciated. So I’m eager to keep looking for other “tricks” like that.
I hope that we will continue to learn and grow together, as we get more repetitions under our belts. If anyone reading this post has other ideas, I’d love to hear them!