Is it a crime to put your loved one into a memory care facility?
No. The short answer is no. However, if you have an older loved one or a spouse or anyone else close to you suffering from dementia, then you know how complicated the answer really is. This really isn’t my story, but it inspired me to found the company I run today. This is about my mom, her siblings, and their father.
It started about ten years ago, in the spring of 2005. My grandfather was in his late 70’s and living alone in the home my mother was raised — a tri-level with a basement, two sets of stairs, and the bedrooms on the top level. My grandfather was having a difficult time climbing all those stairs and eventually started living solely in the rec-room, only going up four steps to use the restroom. My mother and her siblings knew it was a disaster waiting to happen, but of course, they couldn’t talk him into moving to a more functional place because at this time, he was able to take care of himself. Unfortunately, this was about to change.
Since none of his children lived with him on a day-to-day basis, the warning signs weren’t as apparent as they should have been. It’s hard to gauge subtle shifts through phone calls and once a week visits. On one of our family visits, he asked me to help him find a raccoon in the attic — an abrupt request, sure, but no cause for alarm. I climbed into the attic and searched for signs of a raccoon. Beyond the dusty boxes and old holiday decorations there was no sign of life up there. I climbed down and told my grandfather. “Hmm,” he said, “I could’ve sworn I heard something scurrying.”
Flash forward two weeks. We’re back at his house and my grandpa tells us he’s been hearing something up there at least every other night. Once again I climb into the attic. If you’ve ever dealt with raccoons, then you know they make a pretty conspicuous nest wherever they’ve taken up residence, but as far as I could see, there was no trace. Still not alarmed, I tell him there’s nothing up there and it must be the house settling or maybe even mice.
Well then it happened, the big fall. When you least expect it, everything changes. My grandfather missed a step climbing into the attic and fell backwards. Too weak and stunned to pull himself up, he just lay there. Thankfully, he had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the next day and when my aunt called to see if he was ready to get picked up, there was no answer. My grandfather was not one to be late so my aunt immediately knew something was wrong. Both my aunt and uncle went to the house to find him lying there, delirious. He had been lying there for over 10 hours! Where was the medical alert when you needed it?
After getting my grandfather to the emergency room, my uncle found out he had been attempting to climb into the attic to find the raccoon. Just like me, my uncle went up there and found no trace of any living creature. The next few days were a whirlwind of tests, but one doctor, after hearing about the phantom raccoon, suggested my grandfather might be suffering from Sundowner’s. None of us were familiar with the syndrome at the time. Sundowner’s syndrome is dementia that occurs near twilight or after dark. It includes hallucinations, restlessness, agitation, anxiety, fear, and a whole slew of other symptoms. The fall only made things worse.
During the day my grandfather was relatively fine, but after this incident, there was no question that he needed someone with him at night. Since my mom and each of her siblings had families of their own, this would prove immensely difficult. After long talks with my grandfather, he finally agreed to look at a few memory care facilities.
Before he finally relocated, there was a hospital re-admittance for a week, a rehab nursing home facility we thought he would never come out of and finally… the memory care facility. The guilt my mom and her siblings felt at not being able to take care of my grandpa was at once enormous and unnecessary. Not everybody is equipped to take on the role of caregiver and placing a loved one into the care of professionals should not be a source of shame.
Placing someone into a care home is never an easy decision, but sometimes it’s the best possible option for the situation. My grandfather actually enjoyed his last couple of years there, made some new friends, and was relieved he didn’t have to cook or clean again. The staff was warm and made him feel very safe, which in turn made my entire family feel less stressed.