Rocky times

I wish that I could say that buying sheets has been the biggest stress in recent days, but it’s merely a convenient diversion. Behind it lurks the angst of moving my father to a facility to handle his dementia.

Really, I’ve been the assistant in this exercise. Mom’s the ring leader saddled with Dad’s difficult behavior. She’s dealt with the leg work — the interviews, the paperwork and the looming financial bite. I’m the support staff to help with logistics and shoulder some of the guilt and trepidation.

We thought that we’d found the right place for him last week. It was nearby and homey and non-institutional. But non-institutional means less secure and less structured. Not the best environment for someone who’s mobile and without memory, judgment or sensibility.

Though the place was nice and clean, it was still a shock — depositing Dad who’s strikingly younger than everyone else. The facility was populated by 90-year-old grandmothers corralled by walkers.

But in many ways those grannies surpassed Dad. They smiled at visitors, they chatted to one another, they communed in the living room to watch Jeopardy. Dad, on the other hand, was belligerent or withdrawn.

The first night I sat with Dad in the evening to derail any attempts to escape while the doors were unlocked. Every three minutes Dad asked why he had to stay there. When could he go home? I stuck to the script: Mom’s traveling and there’s no one to watch you at home this week.

While the other residents gazed at Alex Trebek, I quizzed Dad from a sheet of history trivia. It was basic stuff: who was the first president? Which ship’s sinking ushered the US into WWI? Which country is associated with the the Bay of Pigs? Even with multiple choice answers, Dad couldn’t answer one.

Dad never settled in, he just got worse. At night he startled other patients by wandering into their rooms, he dismantled a smoke detector, he threatened to run away. By day three, he was out.

At home Mom and I were discouraged while Dad was angry and frustrated when he learned that his return would be temporary. There would be another place, we just had to find it. For his safety and our sanity.

We visited another assisted-living facility today, better equipped for advanced dementia patients. The staff took care of Dad while we took a tour. My initial reaction was dismay — we first stopped at a room full of patients, seated in orderly rows, demurely listening to music and awaiting their dishes of applesauce. Among them was Dad — a single dark-haired head in a sea of white. A hospital aroma wafted from the room. It felt wrong.

But then we saw the sitting rooms, the kitchen, and the common areas that encouraged patients to move about, rather than stay cocooned in their rooms. The halls and walkways would allow Dad to wander to his heart’s content. Other patients acted like Dad — mildly aggitated, confused and disorderly — but no one seemed to mind. The staff were friendly and understanding.

I wish that I could say that I feel great about this. Or relieved. But there’s still a rocky road ahead. Once he realizes what’s going on, Dad will surely resist. There will be a new round of angst and guilt and tears. But this evening, I feel a little better.