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Mar-24-2014 01:21printcomments

Caregiver Confessions...Conundrum Uncovered

I'm told that my blood pressure is somewhat on the rise for the first time ever. My wife is rather confused on what she does want and need, and does not clearly convey needed information.

Hand on cane

(SALEM) - One might assume that after serving 33 years as a Gerontologist that I would be fully prepared for taking on the tasks of being caregiver to my spouse. Well, guess again.

Life is chock full of unpredictabilities, I have discovered.

There is no clear-cut day when it first began, but rather a zigzag pattern of seemingly innocent pitfalls she encountered. They reflected errors in judgment.

May 2013 was our anniversary. We went of a retreat/vacation in the Redmond area to get away from our home environment. My dear wife fell from her bed twice over two straight days, misjudging the right distance. This was highly unusual. We had been to over forty states in our travel and that had never happened. A danger sign?

Her erratic perception on distance had long been a trouble spot to me. The eye doctor discerned nothing abnormal other than upgrading her prescription glasses. What then happened at the motel in Bend was more upsetting, however. She left her copy of the car key overnight in the trunk's keyhole. Any alert robber could have kidnapped my Kia.

When we got home, her rib area continued to be painful. We therefore visited an urgent care doctor a week later. Examination revealed no fracture but a strained muscle that needed time to heal.

On the way home I briefly stopped for groceries. She was asked to wait some 15 minutes while I did the shopping. Impulsivity took over and she abruptly darted from the auto and mounted steps to the supermarket, tripping and landing on her face--a bloody news ensued. She told me later that she screamed for help from nearby strangers and gave one the key to the car so she could sit down while others paged me.

I left the supermarket and we all brought tissues. In the turmoil, she never did reclaim the missing key from the stranger. When I found this out, I was chagrined and feeling quite helpless. This was surely evidence of her growing vulnerability.

In the months that followed, memory lapses became more frequent. Newly delivered mail was mentioned to her and then she asked if the mail had come. Plates on the table were extended slightly over the edge as though observation skills were fading.

The prior year some abrupt driving onto the shoulder had caused police to flag her down. She over-reacted when they signaled and drove onto the sidewalk. They requested a new road test be given to evaluate her perceptual skills. She took it twice, and failed it twice. In utter frustration, she gave up her license and felt like a lost soul.

After her series of falls, I reported these episodes to her physician who wanted her to try a walker for stability. She utterly refused. They compromised on getting a quad-cane. She used it briefly but after a month it lay dormant at home. The stubbornness won out.

Meanwhile, early diabetes was detected in a blood test. She was given equipment to test her blood including needles. Drawing samples proved daunting to her, and after perhaps a month, she surrendered to inaction just like with using the cane. No insulin needed but a low-carb diet. Disciplined eating was not her strong point.

I decided to consult NW Senior & Disability Services for assistance. They performed a home visit to assess her situation. In short order, we received eligibility for a housekeeper, Cherry Lift transport pickup, and a weekly peer counselor to support her transition. She chose a reliable housekeeper and welcomed the peer counselor, leaning on me to give her rides as needed. I became her advocate and monitored her signs of decline.

Finally, she opted to move to Madrona Hills, an independent living community in Salem. They supply a studio room with three meals, activities and housekeeping services but no healthcare at that level. She resisted going to an assisted-living facility but soon tired of her new environment, finding her peers somewhat "too conservative" and feeling that her being Asian made her feel too conspicuous. She began to seek out another community, initially asking to move to central Florida to be near a brother and nephew.

However, the senior homes there were generally far more expensive. Her naive hope that her sibling could become her advocate proved futile as that part of the family had its own aging issues. Her nephew was willing to oversee her fiances but had a f/t hospital position he needed to fulfill. Local Salem friends urged her to focus on closer sites.

As her caretaker, I took her to visit five locations: two in Eugene, and one in Corvallis, Newberg and Portland respectively. She has chosen the Portland site which offers a more multicultural setting and an emergency-button necklace in case of falls. This was instrumental as she sustained a dislocated elbow in a tumble just last month and wears an elbow brace at this very moment.

Other caregiver help includes visits to a counselor, orthopedist. physical therapy clinic and neurologist who is ordering MRI screening to track the cause of her memory lapse.

Yours truly is doing case management linkage and advocacy for her almost daily, and helping her to pay her bills when matters become fuzzy. The phone is an example.

In the process, I do feel stresses and sleep less soundly. I'm told that my blood pressure is somewhat on the rise for the first time ever. My wife is rather confused on what she does want and need, and does not clearly convey needed information. All of the above forces me to surmise. When I ask for clarity, she gets angry and very defensive. If I try to offer options, she misconstrues my intent and thinks I am "forcing" her to do this or that.

So a fog of paranoia might now be enveloping what was once normal conversation.

Let's hope being a caregiver does not hasten my trip to an undertaker.



NOTE: Lee Coyne counseled elderly clients from 1974 through 2008 when he retired. He also was a social work field instructor at colleges in NYC and Washington, DC.

B. Lee Coyne, a NYC native, blends three careers: Journalist, Counselor, Educator. His writings have appeared in newspapers and magazines on the East and West Coasts and the Southwest. He loves the art of the interview and has covered such persons as Dr. King's 1963 "Dream" speech and Sen. William

Proxmire as an advocate for the environment. A global traveller to some 30 countries aboard, he speaks Spanish semi-fluently and very rudimentary Russian, Tagalog, German, Arabic and Hebrew.

Lee's legacy here in Salem includes launching the Salem Peace Mosaic at the YMCA and doing a radio talk show for KMUZ/88.5 FM. It airs Mondays and highlights lives of proactive, productive senior citizens. He invites you to contact him at:


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