Here is a quote I comprehend intensely. It’s from an article in yesterday’s New York Times on line about South Korea’s rapidly growing elderly population and explosion of Alzheimer’s cases. South Korea has the Confucian tradition of respect and lifelong care for one’s elders called filial piety, but experience is showing that dementia in the elderly erodes filial piety. Here’s the quote, from a social welfare director named Kwak Young-soon: “There’s a saying that even the most filial son or daughter will not be filial if they look after a parent for more than three years.” It’s true. A parent with Alzheimers becomes contrary, illogical, difficult, frustrating, paranoid, heart-breaking and/or crazy-making enough to exhaust the filial piety of almost any adult child.
In the United States, sons tend to go into denial – insisting it’s not really so bad. When that fails, sons tend to go AWOL. Daughters tend to become the designated care-givers and then willingly or not they undergo terrible stress and strain. I saw very early on how crazy, mad, and bad my mother’s Azheimers made me feel when she was still living in her own home and I went to visit her and try to take care of her and the house. This is not a good idea doesn’t begin to cover it. Assisted Living was the only way to go. It turned out extremely well for me and for her as well. If you can afford it and find a good place (those can be big ifs) Assisted Living is a blessed port in the storm of Alzheimers.
This was underscored in a talk given a couple of weeks ago at my mom’s Assisted Living facility, the Gardens at Cavalry in Columbus, Georgia. The speaker was a geriatric psychiatrist from Atlanta, Dr. Larry Tune. He told the intent audience of adult children and caregivers that one of the only ways to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s is a structured and highly social environment. Assisted Living and day care work really well. An adult child quitting her job to take care of Mom or Dad at home may not work so well. It turned out that one woman in the audience was in exactly that position. Dr. Tune radiated concern for her situation. A lady stood up to announce that she was with the county agency on aging and wanted everyone in general, and the caregiver daughter in particular, to know about the agency resources for Alzheimers people and their families. We want you to know that you’re not alone, the lady emphasized.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to see an elder with Alzheimers to a good end of life. This Thanksgiving of 2010, I’m thankful that my mother has that.