Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gardening Bonds a 37 Year Age Difference

My father-in-law who is 94 this year, is 37 years older than I am. When my father-in-law came to live with us seven years ago, I learned right away he likes the outdoors and can spend hours watching the birds and butterflies. Since he worked outdoors most of his life, nature is familiar and comforting to him. What a match the pair of us have become over the years, I love to garden and he loves the outdoors. I work in the garden and he sits on the patio, watching the birds visiting the birdbaths and bird feeders nearby. He gets his daily exercise by walking around the gardens and he stays reasonably healthy that way.

Many adult children are faced with caring for their aging parents and face difficult emotional and financial times. With the rise in health care costs, the rise in the cost of living, and the lack of suitable arrangements for the elderly, many folks, like my husband and myself, find themselves in a situation where they realize if they don't care for their parents themselves, then who will.

My husband and I have been caring for my father-in-law for the past seven years. My husband promised his father a long time ago that he would not put him in a nursing home. So when my father-in-law was unable to take care of himself, he came to live with us. My father-in-law does not have Alzheimer's, but he does have short term memory loss due to a series of small strokes in his brain. The strokes did not affect him physically, but unfortunately they affected his brain and his ability to function independently or live on his own.

Short term memory loss can be even more difficult to understand and deal with than Alzheimer's is. When a person cannot remember something a few minutes after they are told something or remember if they have eaten or not, the caregiver has to take on the role of "thinking" or "anticipating the needs" for the other person. Over the years I have learned that if I am thirsty, I offer a drink to my father-in-law (he never asks for anything and does not initiate actions on his own). I gently remind and suggest that he take a trip to the restroom regularly as he doesn't remember he hasn't been there for a while. Over time I have learned this is the best way for him to remain as independent as possible, to keep him healthy, and for "accidents" to be prevented.

I debated whether to post about this personal aspect of our family life, but if even one family can relate to, or learn from my post, then it is definitely a post of value.