Kids as caregivers
Memory loss reverses roles of parents, children
The natural order of things is for a parent to raise a child, but sometimes that lifecycle revolves back to the child caring for an elderly parent.
Patsy Torres knows all too well what it’s like to care for an aging parent in an effort to avoid sending him or her to a nursing home.
Torres, a Peabody High School graduate, moved back to Peabody after living in Topeka for 40 years so she could live with and care for her 94 year-old father, Angel Torres.
Angel remains fairly independent despite his age, but after a serious vehicle accident six years ago he began showing signs of memory loss.
Patsy is happy she can be there for her father and care for him, but it is a double-edged sword.
“We’re both struggling with each other,” she said. “Parents aren’t used to their kids taking care of them. I truthfully didn’t expect we’d be at this point a year ago, but his memory was much better than it is now.”
Patsy’s mother died of a heart attack in 1986 when Patsy was 26. An already strong relationship with her dad was strengthened as a result.
“I’ve always been a daddy’s girl,” she said.
Over time, Patsy has developed a routine, helping her worry less about him while she is at work in the evenings at the Dollar Tree in Newton.
He sometimes gets frustrated, however, especially when he is trying to recollect different memories.
“I have to remember that while I am his daughter, I’m still doing a job,” she said. “Any job I’ve ever had I try to do my best at. Sometimes I just tell myself he is a customer and I take a deep breath.”
After concerns arose a short time after the accident, Patsy took time off work to help her dad and research several home health services.
“I found out any type of home health is very, very expensive, even though he has insurance,” she said. “At first he was OK with it. But when I told him they would come in three or four days a week and all the things they would do for him, he started crying.
“I reminded my dad that the doctor was ready to put him in the nursing home a few weeks before this and it would be the best thing. I couldn’t handle that he was crying. Finally, he looked at me and asked how much I would charge to move home and take care of him. Of course, I wouldn’t charge him anything.”
Patsy recently enlisted the assistance of Dawn Miller, a representative of Angels Home Health, advice.
Patsy, and LouAnne Bowlin, site manager for Peabody Senior Center, arranged for Miller to facilitate a caregivers support group at Peabody Senior Center. Monday was the first session of the group, but Patsy was the only one to take advantage.
Patsy was able to ask questions and learn of resources to help her.
Angels serves Marion County residents and its service are covered 100 percent by Medicare.
“We know it’s hard,” Miller said. “It’s a big task, and a caregiver can be under a lot of stress.”
Like Patsy, Barbara Villaneuva was uprooted from her home of many years to care for her parents. She and her husband, Jim, moved from Las Vegas, to Hillsboro in 2011 after her parents said they needed help.
Her father died in 2012 but the couple has remained in Hillsboro, caring for her mother, Helen Fenstermacher, 94.
“In some ways it has been really fun,” Barbara said. “We both enjoy sewing and quilting. She has a big sewing room, and when I moved here we combined all of our stuff and have spent a lot of time quilting together.”
Helen is in relatively good health, but has had heart surgery and suffered a stroke in February. She also has macular degeneration, making it difficult for her to see.
“It hasn’t been all that difficult until this year,” Barbara said. “Since her stroke her balance is off, and she now uses a walker all the time, and her memory has been effected. She knows where she is and can carry on a conversation but just might not remember that conversation the next day.”
Barabara’s job as a massage therapist allows her to work from home and stay with her mother every day.
Being so far away from her own children and grandchildren has been hard, however.
“Before, when Jim and I would want to leave for Christmas to see our kids, we could be gone about two weeks,” she said. “She would get checked on by my sister who lives here, and was OK to be by herself, other than getting kind of lonely. But now, we just can’t up and leave. For me it is kind of hard, especially since we just had a new grandbaby in Las Vegas and I’ve only seen her once.”
Barbara already is planning a trip around Christmas, and is thankful for resources that will make that possible.
“I will have to put her in either Salem or Parkside Homes while we are gone,” she said. “It’s wonderful they have short-term care available. It makes me feel better there is that option here in town.”
Each nursing facility told Barbara she could come the first part of December and pick out which room her mother would be staying in..
Helen thinks Barbara is taking good care of her.
“She’s a good kid,” Helen said. “She was my oldest, and I kind of depended on her a lot even when she was growing up. I used to think she helped me raise the other kids, too. If she wasn’t here I’d have to find somebody else or go someplace else.”