Monday, November 19, 2007

My Grandmother and the "Storage Barn"

My mother and I went up to Claremore, Okla. to see my Cherokee Grandmother after my sister Kara ran in a marathon in Tulsa yesterday. Grandmother was recently diagnosed with alzheimer's and has been in a nursing home for about two months. She has spent a short time in the hospital because she got medications all mixed up and took too much aspirin which ate up the lining in her stomach almost bleeding her out.

Grandmother looks good for 90 years old and was in good spirits. She was pleasant and polite and conversational... on the surface. There isn't much depth left. She doesn't have much short term memory left at all. She kind of lives in the moment with no real understanding of where she is and why. She pretty much thinks she's there as a volunteer worker for all the other poor souls filed away there to die. She does not see herself as a patient. She says she feels great. She walks the halls praying for all the other residents like she did for years at the Veterans Hospital. Everyday she gets up out of bed, bathes, gets dressed, eats breakfast and then gathers her things waiting for someone to come and get her and take her home. To pass the time she walks about watching the birds and the plants outside the windows and praying over the other residents that are upset and hurting. She says she's been busy and met a lot of nice people but she's ready to go home now...

"we can go right now if you want... I'm packed and ready," she says.

She talked about wanting to go home and get her porch painted a different color and do some yard work, raking leaves and cleaning out the gutters. Its gut wrenching to deal with. Every time there is a pause in conversation she slips in how anxious she is to get home.

She also speculates about living elsewhere and offers, "If there's anything I can do to be of service I'll do it. The busier I am the happier I am and the better I feel. I can pay for the gas to drive me home or out to see my brother Ralph or my son. I'll bet I can do some work there. There's lots of Indian people and other handicapped I can minister to." The thought that she will be living in the nursing home or "storage barn" as she ironically calls it, seems out of the question to her.

The saddest part is that she definately is not going to get better or last very long where she is. She gets little or no exercise or mental stimulation or any kind of therapy that might help her mentally. Its unbelievable to me that it is so expensive to basically put someone in storage in a nursing home til they die and there is such little return. Rooms at the Motel 6 are roomier and better furnished. Nursing homes are filled because the families of the residents are pretty much all wage slaves and have to work and are thus unable to be caretakers.

I am strongly considering leaving my employment and moving up there to be her companion and caretaker. All I would need is basic expense money which I can guarantee you is a lot less that what is being paid to that "storage barn". Still this would be a major commitment. Yet, if I can work it out I will do that and do some writing and perhaps even finish my degree while up there as well.

Prayers for us are greatly appreciated. I could also use some advice on things that can at least slow her mind from deterioration and/or entropy.

I found some clips about being there for alzheimer's patients recently. They have really hit home with me now. Take a look at this:

Also, there are several more powerful and moving clips about alzheimer's patients and their humanity and dignity and how to be present for them here:


Anonymous said...

Talk with the speech-language pathologist at the facility where your grandmother is staying to see what you can do to help stimulate her or to have her evaluated for speech services if she hasn't been.

If an SLP is not available, contact ASHA (American Speech-Language and Hearing Association) at 800-638-8255 to see who their best Alzheimer's SLP is in the area. You may find some information at

Most nursing homes I have seen are very limited in what they do/can do to engage their residents physically and mentally. Generally, the more often they see relatives of the resident, the more attention and care the resident receives.

Scott Starr said...

Thank you Anon. This sounds like good advice.

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ZZMike said...

Alzheimer's is perhaps the worst of the lot. All the others kill your body, but that one kills your soul - your identity - your YOU, and leaves the shell intact.

On the other hand, if it hits you, you get to meet new people every day.

Even if it's the same person.

Anonymous's point needs to be emphasized. "the more often they see relatives of the resident, the more attention and care the resident receives."

The opposite is also true: "the less they see....".

The moral being, if you must go into a nursing home, make sure you have some realtives outside.

Friends are not enough: HIPAA rules will keep them from seeing you, let alone finding out about you.