I didn’t sleep for days leading up to moving my Dad to a memory care facility. I knew it had become necessary despite all of our efforts to keep him safe and secure, but I couldn’t stop questioning myself about timing. While Alzheimer’s disease never caused my Dad to be combative, he did become an “exit seeker”. I prefer that term over wandering, because although he did wander, it was always with intent and purpose. He could never explain specifically where he was going, but he confidently communicated that he was “headed north.” He was born and raised in New York and we believe that his desire to head north was to go back to the Bronx as many with dementia revert back to their younger days.
Like many families, we thought we had more time. We moved my parents to the Dallas, Texas, area (where I lived at the time) so that my sister and I could be a help for my Mom. We found a lovely independent living community that was in the process of building the next phase of their property – assisted living and memory care. Shortly after the move, the community and staff became very familiar with my Dad. He quickly became the guy who would confidently walk down into the lobby with a pair of pants draped over his arm declaring that he was “heading north.” The same guy that would find his way down in the elevator but was unable to remember how to get back to his apartment.
My Dad’s move to memory care was forced by the senior living community. I believe we would have come to the decision eventually, but a resident wandering around a gated community containing a large pond and construction site was no place for an exit seeking resident with Alzheimer’s disease. The daily phone calls I received proved it was a real problem for them. In addition to his exit seeking, my Mom’s health rapidly declined. The realization that my parents completely stopped socializing was even more concerning. There was a beautiful dining room downstairs, but my Mom became so uncomfortable in social situations that she began to get all of their meals to go and they ate alone in their apartment. He needed a safe environment where he couldn’t find his way out to the streets, and my Mom needed to be able to exist in a world that wasn’t filled with isolation and fear of him walking out the door when she was resting.
I can’t honestly say that my Dad communicated that he loved his new home at the memory care facility, but he was happy. Really happy. He became the resident comedian, the guy dancing every Wednesday at happy hour, and the man loved by so many. After the initial shock of living alone for the first time ever, my Mom’s health began to improve. She now has a solid social network of friends and has been able to put her life back together. Admitting you need help caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t mean you have failed as a caregiver. It means that you have done all you can do there are trained experts who can help.
I know how difficult the decision can be to move a loved one to a memory care facility, but know you are not alone. The staggering numbers tell the story: 5.7 million American’s are living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, if you are a family caregiver, you are joining a group of 18.4 million providing unpaid care. Whether you come to the decision on our own, or the decision is made for you, there may come to a point in the journey where you are not able to provide the best care possible at home and in fact, may be putting your own health and wellness on the line trying. In the end, what good can we be to anyone else if we are unable to care for ourselves because of the overwhelming burden of caregiving?