A local story caught my interest today. It’s a sad one, and a story that no one wants to hear, especially if you have a loved one in an Alzheimer’s care facility. The caregivers at a metro Atlanta memory care center are facing 72 abuse-related charges. The allegations include restraining patients with bedsheets, throwing water at patients and putting multiple diapers on patients so they wouldn’t have to change them as often.
The facility was immediately shut down and both current and past caregivers will have their day in court. The most surprising aspect of the case to me was the interviews with the relatives of patients who were residing at this facility. The ones the local news interviewed were shocked by the allegations. One woman had even moved her mother from another facility to this one because she was receiving inferior care at the first facility. No one interviewed had seen anything related to the charges filed. Either the case is overblown or the caregivers were good at hiding their abusive actions.
The relatives were also upset about having to “claim” their loved one at a moment’s notice, since the facility was immediately shut down. It is a shame that there is not some safety net in place so that families are not left looking for another care center on their own while having to take care of their loved one at home. (One woman said it took months to find the right center, and I’ve read stories from bloggers who have said the same thing.)
The takeaways from this case for me is to really look at a care center from top to bottom as objectively as you can. Try to visit outside of normal business hours if possible. With Dad, we were not able to visit as regularly as we’d have liked, but with Mom I was there almost every day. Did it make a difference? I feel like they received a similar quality of care but I felt more in control by being a daily presence. Of course, visiting daily is not viable for everyone and should not be required for your loved one to receive compassionate care.
The second takeaway for me is having a backup plan. If the facility where your loved one resides is suddenly shut down, are you prepared to house them indefinitely? I know my house with stairs is not safe for a dementia patient. If you have siblings or other relatives, have you discussed with them if they would be willing to provide temporary housing? Taking in a dementia patient requires 24/7 care as we all know. Are there sufficient at-home services in your area? I know where my mom lives, the home care resources are very limited.
A tragic case provides some food for thought.
Dad was not a big fan of the outdoors. Mom pointed out recently how he would never sit out on the quiet, peaceful back deck of their condo. He did enjoy going on long walks, but that was about the extent of his connection with nature.
But at the assisted living facility that Dad was at for almost a year, he loved to wander the grounds of the garden. It was safely enclosed to make sure the “Memory Care” residents didn’t wander beyond the walls of the facility, but it also didn’t seem like a prison. I remember Dad taking jerking, stumbling walks around the sidewalk that lined the garden and encircled a gazebo area, where families could “socialize” with their loved ones.
The last photograph of dad and I together, July 2011. We are in the garden that was attached to the memory care unit of the assisted living facility.
Other than one “field trip” it was the only time Dad was able to breathe fresh air, to escape those long, dreary hallways of the locked ward that he was confined to due to his dementia. I’m not sure if he felt better outside or not. Towards the end of his stay there, it was so hard for him to get comfortable. We were never able to fully understand why. I guessed it was because he was so emaciated and the hard metal outdoor chairs hurt his body. At any rate, he could never sit still for long. He would have to fight his mind and body hard just to stand up again, then he would be off on his tottering pace that had me racing to catch up to him and offer him support.
Dad never had a green thumb, but at the end of his life, he learned to appreciate his time in the garden.
There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about a variety of programs that can help improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients, including music, storytelling, games and dolls. I know they offered some kinds of exercise and social programs at the memory care facility Dad was at, but Dad was always the loner type. For example, I can’t imagine him sitting in a circle and batting a ball around, an activity that many dementia patients seem to take great joy in. Sure, Alzheimer’s changes people’s personality, but I could still see Dad’s old self underneath the disease until the very end.
He must have been so bored and lonely, pacing up and down the hallways of the memory care facility, with only my mom’s bi-monthly visits to break up the monotony.
Copyright: New Mexico State Parks Division
But just about four months or so before he died, there was a field trip for the memory care residents. They went to the Bottomless Lakes State Park that’s a short drive from Roswell, NM. It seems like a beautiful, peaceful place. I don’t know how much Dad was able to enjoy it, but it must have been nice to breathe in the fresh air at least. I know that Dad enjoyed car rides once he had dementia so even if he didn’t like the lake, at least he got to be on the road a bit!
I just have to wonder what Dad saw or thought about as he looked over the expanse of beautiful blue water. Did he feel anything at all or had Alzheimer’s taken away his ability to appreciate the simple beauty of nature?