Plan for the Worst
The day I found out my grandfather was diagnosed with dementia was extremely difficult for me.
My grandfather had always been such a charismatic, strong and independent individual. Having some background and experience on the progression of dementia, it was hard for me to imagine his life getting to the stages where he would need caregivers and wouldn’t be able to independently take care of himself.
As time went on, my grandmother cared for him, but after being diagnosed with cancer herself, she soon reached a point where she could longer meet his needs. When our family found out about my grandmother’s cancer we knew they both needed care immediately. My grandmother could no longer care for herself, much less my grandfather.
We transitioned them both into assisted living. It was a quick, ill-planned and traumatic shift.
The only facility that would take them in so quickly required that my grandfather have 24-hour care and be under a locked facility for his safety. This meant that he had to be separated from my grandmother. In the blink of an eye, they both lost their privacy, their independence, their dog and one another.
Over the course of just three months at this facility their health declined noticeably.
My grandfather became confused almost all of the time. He began acting out physically, refused to walk, refused medications and barely ate. Meanwhile, my grandmother was dealing with anxiety and fear of her own health and not being able to live with her husband. She ate very little and became frail over the course of her chemotherapy treatment. Seeing my grandparents in this state was difficult, especially because I knew there were better places out there for them; places where they could be together. Eventually we were able to find a new place for them; one that seemed more adapt to supporting their needs.
Once transferred, my grandparents were able to live with one another once again — something they have been doing for the past 60-plus years.
My grandfather began walking again. He started taking his medications, eating well and regained some of his social skills. My grandmother finished her chemotherapy, and is currently in remission. Perhaps most importantly, she is happy, because she is beside her husband again.
This experience has imparted on me the importance of planning for emergency situations with one’s health, especially in circumstances in which cognition and decisions making may be compromised for those that need care. These vulnerable populations need our consideration and thoughtfulness in planning for their future care. The abruptness of my grandparents move wasn’t only difficult, but directly impacted their health. Luckily we were able to make a change before too much harm was done. Some individuals and families aren’t that fortunate.
Today, I urge you all to discuss end-of-life care with your loved ones. It’s a difficult conversation, but it is nowhere near as difficult as the consequences of not having it.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st Year (OMS I)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences