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Published September 01, 2012, 11:35 PM

Minding Our Elders: Education needed to understand Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

DEAR CAROL: My father-in-law was diagnosed several months ago with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve had him living with us for two weeks now, and I have to say that my compassion has gone way up just watching what he is going through. He’s hard to hear and very unsteady, which frustrates my husband’s siblings. They think if their dad would exercise and eat more he’d be better. It’s like they blame him for being sick. What can I do to get his own children to be more understanding?

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My father-in-law was diagnosed several months ago with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve had him living with us for two weeks now, and I have to say that my compassion has gone way up just watching what he is going through. He’s hard to hear and very unsteady, which frustrates my husband’s siblings. They think if their dad would exercise and eat more he’d be better. It’s like they blame him for being sick. What can I do to get his own children to be more understanding? Susan

DEAR SUSAN: Having your father-in-law live with you has given you and your husband a ringside seat to witness his struggle with health issues deepen. Since the other adult children don’t live with him, it’s easier for them to live in denial. They don’t like to think that their dad is permanently sick, so they act as though he could do something about it if he wanted to. Part of their need to blame him for his decline may be based on fear. If they believe that the diseases are questionable, they may not be at risk themselves.

They need education. Their dad didn’t do anything to bring on his Parkinson’s or his Alzheimer’s disease and he can’t stop their progression. As you so readily see, what he needs is love, compassion and understanding, along with the medical help I assume he’s already receiving.

I’d like to recommend three websites to you. The Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America at www.alzfnd.org can help you learn more about the dementia side of his illness. The Parkinson’s Foundation at www.Parkinson.org can help you with specifics pertaining to his Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps you can encourage your husband’s siblings to learn from these organizations.

As your father-in-law’s ability to balance declines and the characteristic rigidity of advanced Parkinson’s becomes a problem, he’ll need physical assistance just to get around. His Alzheimer’s symptoms will also increase in severity, expanding his care needs significantly. It’s important that your husband make it clear to his family that you and he can’t handle their dad’s care alone. Your husband’s siblings must get over their denial, accept what is happening to their dad, and help plan care for him. If they don’t, you and your husband will have to hire help on your own.

In-home care, adult day care and assisted living are options for now. Eventually, he’ll likely need nursing home care, so it’s a good idea to start investigating all of your local facilities.

Your compassion for your father-in-law and all that he is going through is admirable, Susan. I expect that his children will come around once they are pushed to open their eyes and accept facts. I hope this happens soon.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.

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