Grandma has a Gun
It’s not easy taking care of aging spouses, parents or grandparents, especially when they first start to show signs of dementia and personality changes. This is something I learned in my own family. I remember how hard it was for me when my grandmother, Mema, developed dementia. Suddenly my beautiful, elegant, easy going, and soft-spoken grandmother was paranoid and lashing out at me and others. At the time, grandad needed surgery and doctors said at his age, he would be in the hospital for several weeks. The family decided my aunt, cousins, and I would rotate weeks staying with grandmother during grandad’s extended hospital stay.
When our turn came, my husband and I drove to Florida for our week with Mema. That first night, we had dinner in a restaurant with my aunt and uncle who were finishing out their week. At dinner, grandmother looked great, chatted with us and drank her usual glass of port. I thought, this week is going to be a piece of cake. But after my aunt and uncle left, we soon realized something was terribly wrong. Mema said the same things over and over. She thought people on TV were talking about her. Mema couldn’t remember to sit at the table to eat even when dinner was ready and the table was set. She didn’t sleep and walked back and forth constantly. Mema didn’t want anyone in the apartment with her. She kept asking who we were. We ended up eating out a lot because that was the only way we could keep her seated to eat. She also behaved more normally in public.
A few days into the stay, we were exhausted. One night as we slept, Mema put sticky notes all over the walls. My husband and I awoke the next morning to find hundreds of post-it notes on the walls of her apartment. The notes said “GET OUT!” and “CALL HER OFF!” The messages were very hurtful to me as her granddaughter. It was extremely hard for me at the time to understand that this was the illness speaking, not my beloved grandmother. I was very upset. In fact, this incident was so painful that I haven’t shared the content of the messages with others until now. But there was more to come . . . .
After my week with Mema ended, I heard from a cousin that Mema pulled a gun on the housekeeper the following week and told her to get out. As strange as it sounds, the gun incident made the sticky notes much easier for me to take. Ultimately, grandmother had to go into a nursing home where she lived until she died a few years later.
If you are caring for a spouse, parent or grandparent who is showing signs of dementia, what should you do? The first thing is to make sure your family member is in a safe environment while you explore legal options and placement options. Securing the environment may also mean securing vehicles as well.
Contact other family members and have a family meeting or conference call if possible to discuss what is going on. Ask other family members for help sitting with the family member so that he or she is not alone and unattended during the day.
Contact the family doctor or other medical provider and tell them about changes in behavior. Determine if there is a healthcare power of attorney and durable financial power of attorney that will enable you to make healthcare and financial decisions. If there isn’t a durable financial or health care power of attorney, you may need to file a guardianship action in court.
Contact an elder law attorney in your area to determine your options for long-term care, paying for care and for legal assistance with guardianships. Don’t be afraid of investing some time and money to learn about options. Meeting with an elder law attorney can save you time and money in the long run and keep you from making an expensive mistake and spinning your wheels. Elder law attorneys know about a variety of programs and options for seniors and about Medicaid long-term care spend-down rules. Many elder law attorneys work collaboratively with social workers to help families apply for long-term care.
The above list is not exhaustive and you should consult with medical providers and an elder lawyer in your area to determine what is best for your situation. If you are in North or South Carolina and have legal questions about long-term care planning for a spouse, parent, or grandparent who is showing signs of dementia, contact Nancy’s office at 704-887-5242 and see if you can schedule an appointment for a strategy session with Nancy and her social worker.