Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you about my beloved father who lives with me and just turned 95. My father is a great talmid chacham and was a very successful real estate business man. I am one of a large family, and even though his primary residence is my house, many of my siblings help me enormously and host him often to give me a break. We are all traumatized by seeing my father’s mental deterioration. He is sometimes clear and sometimes confused. He does not have Alzheimer’s, Baruch Hashem, but confuses the children and grandchildren and various details of his life. He still has his loving sweet personality. Please advise as to how we can better deal with this challenging situation.
It is very difficult to deal with aging parents as the roles start to reverse. It doesn’t feel good to parent a parent and once a parent’s mind starts to deteriorate, it is a fine line that one has to balance between making sure to have derech eretz while caring for a parent. The following ideas may be helpful during this challenging transition:
Make sure to establish a routine for your father. As your fathers’s cognitive function continues to decline, his daily life will change. It’s important to create a routine to help reduce confusion and disorientation. A routine also helps as surprises are not good for someone struggling with confusion and it is easier for a person who is confused to know what to expect. Choosing one or two regular activities for each day, such as learning and/or a walk is one way to do this. As doctor’s appointments are probably a big part of your life as well, it can be helpful to have a whiteboard with a “schedule” so your father knows what to expect for his day.
Getting help is imperative. You mentioned that your siblings are very involved, which is wonderful and a true gift! It also is a good idea to look into finding a caretaker (either through Medicaid or private) to help care for your father. Perhaps there are also some community resources (JCC programs, etc.) he would benefit from. Maybe one of your siblings can help you manage the community resources, so it doesn’t all fall on you.
Music is a great tool. Trying to maintain a happy and calm atmosphere will go a long way in helping your father feel calm and safe. Having the grandchildren/great-grandchildren dance with your father can help him feel energized and happy. Younger children can make shows, which also usually makes the grandparents feel happy and calm. Older grandchildren can learn with your father, which will keep his mind sharper and help him feel productive and good about himself.
Getting fresh air is imperative. Many studies have shown that getting out every day is helpful for older individuals and it helps cognitively as well.
Socializing is also very important. Can your father join any groups with others? Perhaps the JCC, shul, or library have something he would be interested in.
Lastly, it is extremely important that you take care of yourself as well. Make sure to engage in stress relieving techniques such as meditation, exercise, and enjoyable hobbies. You also have to maintain proper nutrition, sleep, and regular physical activity. If you feel that the stress is overwhelming, please seek professional help to assist you in keeping the stress at bay, so you can function more optimally.
Hatzlacha in fulfilling this unbelievable mitzvah. May Hashem grant you and your family much health, happiness, parnassah, and nachas! It should be a good, gebentched year for you and Klal Yisrael.