Caring For Elderly Parents Often Leads To Lasting Life Changes

Aug 30, 2018

Debbie Rhodes and her mother, in better times.
Credit Courtesy of Debbie Rhodes

There are a few things that can completely change the trajectories of our lives. Becoming a parent for the first time is one. And caring for our parents can be another.

So it has been for Debbie Rhodes. As she sits in our studio before our interview, she’s looking at her phone to check on her mother, who has advanced stage Alzheimers’.

Debbie Rhodes: “She’s at home on five cameras that I have on her in every room. I have a door alarm so if she tries to go outside, it goes off.”

Doug: “Can you show me?”

As we wait for her phone to pull up the cameras, Rhodes tells me she’s been her parents’ caregiver for seven years. Her father passed three years ago. Now it’s just her mother and she’s a handful.

Debbie Rhodes: “It was a lot easier when Dad was around. He could help somewhat. He was sharp as a pin until he died, but Mom, with her dementia and her Alzheimers’, it’s getting really hard. Here, I can show you the camera. I had it installed five years ago.”
Doug : “And has it helped?”
Debbie Rhodes: “It has helped a lot. She’s not on that camera. Let me find her on a different one. It would really help when I was at work.”
Doug: “So Mom is sitting in a chair, in the living room there?”
Debbie Rhodes: “She’s in the living room. And she’s holding her baby doll that I bought her for company.”
Doug: “So she has a caregiver at home too?”
Debbie Rhodes: “She lives on my same property, so I’m her caretaker, via the cameras when I’m not there or via Home Instead.”

Home Instead is the Home Instead Senior Care Network, an agency that provides a variety of caregiving services.

“My role over the last 10 years has changed. I went from full-time working, full-time business, empty nester for a few months there, and then Dad and Mom got sick. Dad had to have diabetic shots twice a day, couldn’t do much of anything else, but he was still sharp as a pin," Rhodes said. 

"Mom’s Alzheimers’ had kicked in. It evolved that, with her Alzheimers’, she kind of got wild. She jumped on the hood of my car. She held me at gunpoint with a .357 Magnum. I had to call work and say ‘I’m going to be late from my break. I have to wait for the police to come.’ Because you can’t force somebody to go to the doctor’s," she said. "My dad kept saying something’s wrong, but you can’t force them. So one night, my dad called the police and said that mom punched him. She said that he punched her and they both went to jail. Mom finally got help.”

She got her parents out of jail. Doctors put mom on medication and Rhodes’ burdens increased.

Debbie Rhodes: “I was trying to do caregivers as I was working and Dad would fire them. It was so stressful. They gave me a TIA and an aneurysm over that time period before I hired Home Instead.”
Doug: “TIA?”
Debbie Rhodes: “Yeah, a mini stroke. I told them both they were going to kill me b before they ever died [laughing].”
Doug: “So did you not have anybody other than you? No spouse? No siblings to help?”
Debbie Rhodes: “No, my brother lives in California. My mom kept stripping naked so my husband couldn’t help either. My sons were kind of out of the picture to help and my daughter doesn’t live in Washington state. So it was me and that’s when I put all the cameras in to see her while I was at work. I could see the caretakers too while I wasn’t there and could help them out when I could see Mom getting combative.”   

Rhodes had a conundrum with which many adult children can empathize. She had a mother whose mind was going but whose body was fine. She had a father whose failing health meant his ability to help was limited. The stress was making her sick. And the clock was ticking on the resources she had available to hire independent caregivers.

“She had a long-term care policy that only lasted two years and so I was waiting until the point when I just couldn’t manage any more by myself with part-time help. But my dad kept firing them. They’d call me at work and say ‘I just got fired.’ That’s the day I had my TIA because I got so mad at my dad. I don’t even remember leaving work. I went home and my dad said I was really mad at him, madder than he’s ever seen and I just kind of screamed and grabbed my head and I was gone,” she said.

Eventually, Rhodes hit her breaking point. Her father died, but she couldn’t care for her mother alone. She called the Home Instead agency and Christie Amans.

“We have an emergency-driven business," Amans said. "We get a frantic phone call from a daughter or a son. They’re just fed up. They’re being pulled so many different directions that they cannot cope. So we step in, usually in an emergency, quickly, like we did with Debbie, and provide not just care for the parent, but it allows the daughter to be a daughter when we’re there. Debbie was at work for a lot of the time until just recently. She was able to go to work, knowing someone was going to be there with her mother.”

Rhodes’ long-term care policy has paid for about two years worth of care. And she says that has helped immensely, allowing the caregiver to do the day-to-day chores and Rhodes to be a daughter while the help is there. But, she’s about at the end of that. From now on, she’ll have to pay out-of-pocket for outside care. So the financial stress is there and so is the mental and emotional toll.

“You get to the point where you feel so guilty that you’re mad at her. You get mad at her for the way she’s changed your life, for the fact that she right-hooked you in the jaw because you let the caretaker back in the house that she locked out. And then you have to remember that she can’t help it," Rhodes said. "I like her best when she’s sleeping now [laughing]. I can watch her and she’s sleeping nicely.”

Last December, because of her mother’s situation, Rhodes left her job with the Spokane County Library District. She says she’s reviving a home-based business she operated several years ago while she manages her mother’s care.

Meanwhile, Mom continues to go through her combative phases.

“Sometimes it feels like your mother’s died. And then other times you see little glimpses," Rhodes said. "Yesterday was horrifying because she looked at me and said ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ She had a moment of clarity. 'I never wanted this for my life and I can’t do this any more. What are we going to do?' And I said, 'Mom, we’re doing the best we can.'”

It should be noted that Debbie Rhodes also has a husband at home and a son and two small grandchildren and two dogs. Together they manage to keep a household while Debbie oversees her mother’s care.

Rhodes says she’s sharing her story because she hopes others who have their own situations will learn from her experiences.

Christie Amans from Home Instead says stories like this are becoming more common. And more services are becoming available, too, for families. Some are private pay, some offered by governments. To find out more about them, one good source is the agency known as Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington. She says some companies also have employee assistance programs for people who are caring for parents. And Home Instead has a new program that provides support for adult children. It’s called Daughters in the Workplace, because daughters are more likely to take responsibility for the care of their parents. You can find more information at DaughtersintheWorkplace.com.