Jean's Journey - Dealing with Elderly Diseases

by Liz

Both Tom and Jean suffered from elderly diseases. When her husband, Tom, died in 1998 of lung cancer, Jean was 77 years old.

She was fiercely independent. She has a keen intellect, is very bright, a great cook and knitter. She’s also excellent at doing crosswords.

About 5 years after Tom’s death, Jean decided to move to Calgary to be near her daughter and son-in-law, Marg and Tom and her son and daughter-in-law, Jack and Trina.

Jean was still very independent, living in an apartment, driving to stores and managed very well. She was diagnosed with macular degeneration.

She was glad to be close to an entire range of excellent medical help. She had no troubl commuting by bus and then C-train to downtown Calgary for her Ophthalmologist’s appointments.

Several years later, Jessie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She made the decision to stop driving on her own, but only after a few close calls, we assume, barely avoiding accidents.

As her Parkinson’s disease progressed, Mum still took the bus to nearby malls. Her eyesight worsened, but her Ophthalmologist has been doing everything to give her the best sight possible.

She showed definite signs of Parkinson’s and her day-to-day attitude and motor skills deteriorated. Lots of times she just wasn’t feeling well. Mum wasn’t sleeping well at night, but refused to take any sleeping medication saying “that stuff’s addictive”. Still, at 89 she isn’t sleeping well and refuses to take medication.

Mum often had bruises or burns when we went to visit. Because of her eyesight, and Parkinson’s, she was tripping, falling, getting burns and cutting herself often. We all talked to her and tried gently to suggest a move to a senior’s facility, but she would not even consider it. She would not allow housekeepers or anyone else into her apartment to help.

We all tried to convince her to purchase a Lifeline system, but Mum did not want anything around her neck which would indicate a disability. Nor would she consider the
watch-type of Lifeline. She stated adamantly that if she fell and died in her apartment, she would die happy. It was a great concern to all of us that she would fall and not be found until days later.

For months and months, Mum’s symptoms became worse. Marg was sure she was over-medicating with the Parkinson’s drug. Mum would get really agitated, looked at her watch frequently waiting for the 4 hour period to be up to take the next dose. She started taking the medication earlier and earlier. Her symptoms became worse… the writhing,open mouth grimace and she was tripping and falling a lot.

It was at this point that Mum had a really bad fall, smashing her face on the wooden arm of a chair. She had black eyes, and her face was very bruised and swollen. This fall really scared her although she downplayed what had happened to all of us.

And, Jack and Trina had been talking to her about moving into a facility, or she could move in
with them.

Thanksgiving weekend, 2009, Mum said she was ready, and began plans to move in with them, in their above-ground basement. They remodeled to give Mum a TV room, a large bedroom, a new bathroom, and railings up the two sets of stairs to get to the kitchen. They tried to encourage her to purchase a stair lift, but as yet, Mum is still waiting for a “grant” to help pay for the lift.

Shortly after Jessie moved in with Jack and Trina, Trina took her into Calgary to see the neurologist for a regular check up and to talk about how sick she was feeling. When the doctor saw how much medication Mum was using, he really tied into her and told her that she was suffering because she was overdosing on the medication. He put her on a timed release pill which changed her almost over night. She was brighter, less shaky and happier within days.

There is no doubt that Mum’s condition is worsening slowly. She will be 89 this October. She weighs about 100 pounds, and still is not sleeping well at night, so she naps during the day, several times. When we go for a visit, the first day she really tries to spend time and visit, but it all takes a toll on her. The next day she stays downstairs after meals and naps a lot and doesn’t want to go out.

The important thing is that she is as safe as possible there. Jack and Trina come home at lunch time; they are only a few minutes away from home, and if they are away, their son checks in on her once a day. She has a pocket on her walkers to put a phone in for emergency calls. She has a walker on each floor of the house. Alternatively, she goes into Calgary and stays with Marg and Tom.

She did say recently that she isn’t a lot of fun to be around now. She is in a lot of pain in her back and neck, which the doctor says is osteo. We know she is coming to the end of her journey, but she has fought it with independence and pride (stubbornness) all the way along.

Thank you so much for this submission. Caring for aging parents can be so challenging - especially when they find it difficult to admit they need help.

I've seen this happen over and over when working with families. Their loved one very stubbornly holds onto the last of what they see as their independence.

It's a fine line between respecting their choices and worrying about elderly safety.

Liz mentioned a few specialist and elderly diseases, to learn more about these topics:
Elderly Diseases
Elderly Health Care

Other pages related to this story:
Fall Prevention in the Elderly
Elderly Safetly

Jean's Journey sounds like a long one.

Other readers are welcome to offer encouraging comments or suggestions for Liz or your own stories about caring for your aging parent.

Thank you,

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Aug 31, 2010
by: Kevin

Thank you for sharing your story.

We each have our own journey and we appreciate the time you took to share Jessie's.

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