Carol Bradley Bursack
Dear Carol: After Mom died seven years ago, Dad adjusted as well as could be expected. However, over the last three years he's been sliding into dementia. He's confused about people, which is our biggest problem for now. When Dad sees my 22-year-old daughter, he thinks that she is my mother back when my parents were young. His overly affectionate welcomes are clearly sexual in nature and it makes us all deeply uncomfortable. I've told my daughter, who does look very much like her grandmother did at a young age, that her grandpa can't help this because his mind isn't working properly.
Dear Carol: My 88-year-old mother recently had a mammogram, and they've discovered a cancerous lump in her breast. I think she should have surgery and treatment, but the doctor says that it should be left alone. He says that considering Mom's age and general health, treating it could be harmful to her and it's not guaranteed to cure her. He actually said that the treatment itself could kill her. I think it's just that they don't want to spend money on old people. Mom says that she doesn't want to go through the treatment, but I think I could talk her into it if the doctor was more supportive.
Dear Carol: My husband is 57 and he has been diagnosed with younger onset Alzheimer's disease. We are both devastated but are trying to make the best of something that can't be made pretty. One thing we are facing is how to respond to people's remarks when we tell them the news. Their reactions range from "I'm sorry" or "that's terrible," which we find kind of comforting, to a pep talk about how people can still live great lives for years to come before the symptoms become bad.
"Code Blue!" A voice cries out in the Emergency Department. "Is there a doctor who can 'tube' a patient in Cardiac Cath Lab?" These beginning lines of "Wishes To Die For: Expanding Upon Doing Less in Advanced Care Directives," by Dr. Kevin J. Haselhorst, prepare the reader for an adventure in self-examination. The first chapter, titled "Self Determination," describes the author's own internal battle to balance his training as a doctor who cures at all costs with the wishes of his patients.
Dear Carol: I'm a single woman who was forced into early retirement because of multiple sclerosis. My mother has been a widow for years, and I'm her only living child, so we're very close. She recently had two strokes and has residual issues from them, so I had her move in with me. We get along well, but I'm finding that I can't take care of her needs without worsening my own health. We've been looking at different options, and Mom is fine with whatever we need to do. I know that I'm being irrational, but I feel guilty that I can't take care of her by myself.
Dear Carol: My dad is dying of esophageal cancer at the age of 67. Mom died 16 years ago, so it has been just Dad and me for a long time. We're very close and I am afraid for him to die. We've never been religious. I don't know where to turn or what to tell him to make his passing easier. Can you offer any encouragement?—Jess Dear Jess: If your dad is not under hospice care, I'd strongly suggest that option.
Dear Carol: My loving aunt raised me after my mother died. She's only 61, but she's developed Alzheimer's, the type that they call younger onset. She's in a nursing home and I visit several times a week but she often doesn't know me. Sometimes she's just staring off into space. When I'm there, I take her to the dining room and feed her and talk to her. I also try to engage her in other ways but it seems hopeless.
Dear Carol: My dad is 76 years old. I worry about him because he wants to hike and do other outdoor activities alone. He's had one heart attack. Because he's changed his diet and gets lots of exercise, his doctor says that Dad's the healthiest he's been in years. That's all fine, but what if he has a second heart attack when he's off wandering the hills out by the lakes? I want him to take someone with him when he goes hiking, and my mom agrees, but he's always been stubborn.
Dear Carol: My dad has had heart disease for years. He recently had a stroke that left him weak on one side but otherwise he seems to have recovered physically. Mentally, he's not doing so well. He seemed to go downhill fast while he was in the hospital. The neurologist thinks that Dad may have vascular dementia, but she also told me that he shows some signs of Alzheimer's. We're watching him closely now that he's home, but my main concern is that he has times when he talks to people who aren't there.
Dear Carol: I'm trying to determine whether or not it's wise to take my mother out to public events or even to family gatherings. She has mid- to later stage dementia. When I took her to her grandson's program last Christmas she became upset and agitated, yet when I recently took her to a music event in the park she enjoyed it. Now, we're looking at this same grandson's high school graduation. I hate to have Mom miss the event as well as the celebration afterward, but I don't want to upset her or embarrass her grandson.