This morning I took part in an on-line discussion on a caregiver website about medications for our carees. Medications played a big part in my stint as a caregiver, and I thought I’d share a section about the subject from my book.
Day 34, KOA Campground, Clayton, New Mexico:
We had a relaxing evening with laundry, dinner, TV, and medication maintenance. This twice a month job involved sorting various pharmaceuticals into pill organizers for The Kids. They were fascinated by the procedure and offered predictable comments.
“I’d be glad to help you with that,” said Dad, watching my every move as if he wasn’t sure I knew what
I was doing.
“I know you would, Dad, but I have my system set up, and having another person involved would confuse me. It gives me something to do and makes me feel needed.”
Mom on the other hand was extremely impressed with the whole operation. “That’s a really big job, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I have a list, so that makes it a little easier.”
“We really appreciate you doing that. You take such good care of us.”
“No problem. I’m glad to do it,” I said. I smiled to myself as I remembered that she didn’t always feel that way.
I first became aware of some real problems with Mom and Dad’s medications when he was hospitalized. Mom was still taking meds that were prescribed after back surgeries decades before, but I trusted her doctors and assumed they were looking out for her. However, when Dad got sick and she was left to manage on her own, she didn’t do well. She had developed a habit of taking a pain reliever or a muscle relaxer “just in case,” and the stress of Dad’s illness was way more than “just in case.” When I went to check on her or take her to the hospital to visit Dad, she’d be zoned out on the couch, looking like a hippy at Woodstock.
Aunt Fay came to stay with her for several nights and confided that she thought Mom was over-using some of her meds. She noted that Mom seemed pretty “out of it,” and that she hid the offending pills instead of keeping them with the other meds. The hiding places were pretty predictable, under the mattress or in the underwear drawer, so we were able to find and confiscate them. We kept a close eye on Mom and began to regulate her intake.
When Dad got home and seemed to be pretty much back to normal, I returned drug supervision to him. That was a mistake. On my lunchtime visits, I’d find Mom once again zoned out on the couch. The meds were often spread across the dining room table for days as Dad struggled with the complicated task of organizing them. I checked his work, and it was a mess. Doses of some pills were doubled, some were in the wrong time slots, and others were missed altogether. I offered to help, and he reluctantly agreed. I gathered the mess and took it home. With my detail-oriented, somewhat OCD mindset, I brought order to the chaos, and I delivered a week’s worth of medications for each of them, neatly laid out for easy use. But nothing is easy when you’re dealing with dementia. Mid-week, I got a call.
“Linda, we’re out of pills.”
“You can’t be, Dad. I brought you enough to last a week, and it’s only been 4 days.”
“Well, I’m out, and Helen only has a few left.”
I went over to check, and sure enough, his pill sorter was completely empty. Apparently, if today’s pills were gone, he took tomorrow’s. And Mom took whatever struck her fancy. Her sorter was a jumble of empty slots and full slots in no particular order, and she was still showing signs of over-medication.
I got serious. I made a sweep of the house, confiscating everything but aspirin and acetaminophen. I thought I got everything when I took the meds the first time, but I found over-the-counter sleep aids, multiple bottles of prescription pain relievers and muscle relaxers, and unfilled prescriptions. I stuffed everything into a shopping bag and escaped with their stash while they were distracted by the TV, but not for long. The phone rang that night after David and I were in bed.
“Did you take Mom’s pain pills,” Dad said.
I did what any daughter would do when faced with her father’s wrath in the middle of the night. I lied.
“No, Dad, I didn’t.”
“You must have. We can’t find them!”
“Dad, I don’t have them.” That much was true. By then, the meds in question had made their way into the city sewer system.
I could hear Mom in the background. “I want my pills!!”
Dad was not happy. “I’m coming over to get our medicine right now!”
“Dad, you can come over, but I don’t have the pain pills, and I’m not giving you back the medications.”
He hung up, but he didn’t come over. True to family tradition, the pain pills were never mentioned again. I began taking their meds to them one day at a time, and Mom soon forgot about “her pills.”
I know it’s hard for The Kids to lose control of their lives, and it’s hard for me to take that control away. But when control conflicts with safety, I’ll be the bad guy and go with safety.
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