My mom lived alone in her house for quite a while with no major incidents. Every time we visited her however, her ability to express logical ideas and her mood were noticeably becoming worse. She started really worrying about her water being poisonous and refused to drink any of it, even the Alhambra bottled water was now contaminated. No matter how many times we explained why a rag cannot possibly poison someone’s tap and bottled water, she just couldn’t believe us.
She began pacing the house and ignoring the grandkids when they visited. The things that she worried about seemed to be more important than they were. Food did not taste good anymore, so she ate very little. She complained of being hungry a lot, but whenever we pointed out all the food that she bought in the fridge, she said it was poisoned food. The neighbor made dinners for her at least once a week. She put the dinners in the fridge and didn’t touch them. It was hard for me to see my mom suffering this way. She looked really thin and when she walked from room to room, she would almost lose her balance.
I had suggested several times that she put herself in an assisted living facility like the one in Sunnyvale, but she thought it was a terrible idea. She loved her house and she felt like the assisted living places were too expensive. It was around this time that my mom and I both decided to move my dad to another facility in the next town over. She and I were not happy with my dad’s care and we were told that there was a much better facility in the next town over.
We moved him to the new facility in the summertime when it was about 100 degrees outside. It was very hot, but the move went smoothly. I remember him tearing up while asking me to please not leave him there before my husband and I headed home that day. Before we got in the car, I fell into my husband’s arms and we cried together a little. It was heartbreaking. My dad ended up liking that facility though. He even began to participate in the activities and conversations they would have in the community dinning room. I have to say that a good assisted living facility is a wonderful place for someone to live in their old age. The meals are healthy, there are trained caretakers at all hours of the day, there is always a nurse on the floor, and the constant stimulation of all the activities these places provide is so good for the people who live there. If my dad had stayed at home, he would not have lived for as long as he did. It definitely extended his life. This particular facility was a very happy place, despite all the people suffering from dementia. It was a fairly new building located right next to Gilroy’s greenest hillsides. The inside was bright and airy and had a lot of friendly young caretakers around. He had a really nice room with his own furniture and a beautiful courtyard in the memory care unit. The caretakers took the residents out for walks (or wheelchair rides) almost every afternoon around the facility. The kids and I enjoyed visiting my dad there. It was a good situation for him, although I’m sure he would have rather declined in his own home. It was a better situation for his health at least…and peace of mind for his family members!
Forced Into An Ambulance
My mom was still refusing to drink any water because she thought it was contaminated from the rag that accidentally went down the sink. Every time I entered her home, she would also follow me around criticizing me for poisoning the cat. She was so mad at me. She kept asking me what I was going to do to get her out of this “house with the poisoned water.” Food began tasting funny to her. She thought that her food was also contaminated. I think my mom was too anxious to eat. I couldn’t stand it anymore, she was going to die of starvation or dehydration if I did not do something about this right away. I begged her to go to a doctor to get checked out. I called and made an appointment with my dad’s doctor. She said that she hated this doctor and did not want to see him. She told me it was pointless because there was nothing wrong with her. A close friend of hers came by to help me get her into my car. My mom argued the entire way to the car door, but we somehow managed to get her inside. I drove off and she threatened to jump out of the car on the way there.
“Why are you doing this?” she yelled at me.
“Because you have lost too much weight, you’re not eating and you’re not drinking water. I don’t think you’re taking your medications either.” I told her. “I’m afraid you are going to fall again and nobody will ever find you if that happens.”
When I finally got her into the doctor’s office. He examined her the best he could. She was not very cooperative and argued with him quite a bit. At the end of the examination, he told me to step outside for a minute.
I went in the hallway with him and he told me in a low voice “I believe this is dementia with psychosis. You need this diagnosis so that she can be declared incapacitated. Then you can send her to an assisted living facility and take over her finances. The only way that you can accomplish this is to send her to the hospital. They have a psychiatric person who can evaluate her. You can go home and call an ambulance to pick her up or you can drop her off at the emergency room yourself if you think she will cooperate. I also think she is at high risk of having a stroke if she does not take better care of herself. Her blood pressure is a little too high.”
That was it. I had had it. There was no way she was going to cooperate in going to the emergency room with me so I went home and called 911. A sheriff deputy came out to the house first. I explained to him that my mom was hurting herself by not eating or drinking. He was concerned about this. He explained to me that they may or may not keep her because she may not be considered a “5150.” This is a term medical clinicians and officers use for an involuntary psychiatric hold on someone who is endangering their own life or the lives of others. My mom was raging mad by the time the ambulance showed up.
“What are you doing?” she screamed. “I wish I had never had a kid. Is this what your own child is supposed to do to you? Put you in an ambulance for no reason?” she yelled at the sheriff deputy.
He followed her around the house for a while trying to calm her down. The ambulance arrived and I thought to myself. “WHAT HAVE I DONE!?”
The EMTs sat her down on the couch and took some vitals. “You’re blood pressure is pretty high” they told her. “How much weight have you lost in the last month or so?” “Why don’t you come with us and we will get you checked out at the hospital.” They told her.
She refused to go until the officer told her that she no longer had a choice.
“Do you have a Power of Attorney letter for her? he asked me.
I did and I showed that to him. My mom circled the inside of her house trying to escape from the officer and the EMTs. It almost looked like she was resisting an arrest.
“Why are you doing this Leanne?” she screamed. The EMTs finally said, look we have to take her now or not at all. We have other calls. They brought in the gurney and the sheriff asked my mom to get on it. She refused and tried to walk away. He finally grabbed her by the waist and with the EMTs help, they all put her on the gurney. Ugh! This was not turning out the way I had imagined. They put her in the ambulance and I followed behind it in my car. When we arrived at the hospital, the check-in went smoothly and the EMT had me sign a paper for Medicare to cover the ambulance fees. I was a bit relieved even though she was still yelling at me from the emergency room bed. She refused to cooperate with any of the nurses until they gave her a sedative. I thought to myself “Finally, I found a door to a nursing home and then hopefully an assisted living facility for her!”
That night I got a call from the gentleman who did the psychiatric evaluation on my mom. Dementia-psychosis associated with Alzheimer’s disease was the diagnosis. The emergency room doctor prescribed her a new blood pressure medication and a drug called Risperidone to help treat the psychosis symptoms. Risperdone or Risperodal is a drug used mainly to treat schizophrenia and bi-poler disorder. It’s also commonly used to treat certain types of dementia in elderly people (in small doses). There is a high risk of stroke in elderly people who use this drug however. Especially if they take the wrong dose! Early that morning at 2 a.m. I got another call from the nurse in the emergency room.
“We are discharging your mom” she told me.
“What?” “You can’t send her home, she can’t take care of herself.” I said in an irritated voice.
“The doctor thinks she CAN take care of herself and there is no medical reason to keep her here or put her into a nursing home. Does she have any assistance at home?”
“No!” I said. She refuses to allow anyone to take care of her.
“Well, I’m sorry but she is not considered a 5150, so we have to send her home. Her friend is coming to pick her up and bring her home right now.”
Ugh! This is not happening, I thought. My husband couldn’t believe it either. She clearly could not take care of herself and was in danger of starving herself to death or falling, yet they were still sending her home? What the hell! Had I only known about the “legal buzz words” that could have kept her there. I would learn about these words a year later.
That summer my husband moved into another division at work. This division would send him to Taiwan and Japan off and on for two weeks at a time throughout the year. During those weeks of travel I was alone with the kids and nobody to help me if anything bad happened to my mom and dad. My husband’s family in Illinois graciously flew to California to stay with me during his first two week business trip. That was really nice of them.
Early that fall dad began really improving mentally, although he had been placed in Hospice Care back in May. He was taken off almost all of his medications that were keeping him from having a heart attack or stroke. He actually improved quite a bit for a while when this happened. His blood pressure normalized and he seemed to be more aware of what was going on around him. I actually had a pretty normal conversation with him during one of my visits. He told me all about his childhood with his brothers and sisters and it was amazing how clearly he could remember these details. He was able to answer my questions for him clearly and also seemed very lucid. It was a great visit that day!
Summer past without any other incidents. My mom was quiet. I didn’t hear a word from her for quite a while, but I was also too scared to check in on her. I relied on the neighbors to do that for me. They texted me updates about once a week. My dad was doing awesome in the assisted living facility, even though he was in bed a bit more due to his back hurting in the wheel chair all the time. It was a very quiet and relaxed time period…the calm before another storm. I’ve been told that when an elderly person is suddenly doing unusually well, there is a good chance they are going to slide downhill really fast pretty soon. This is exactly what happened to my dad in October of 2015. It was a rough year.
To be continued…
Stayed tuned for the conclusion of this story: “How Buddhist Teachings Helped Me Turn It All Around”