Mike Gamble – Founder / CEO
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Back in September of 2000, I was desperate for answers to help my elderly parents — just like you are right now. I needed solutions that worked — not lengthy articles to read and hope to be lucky enough to find something useful for my folks’ situation.
What was supposed to be a short visit with Mom and Dad suddenly turned into a crisis when I realized how desperately ill my mother had become — and how overwhelmed Dad was with her care. (This was a very different picture than what they wanted us to believe during our weekly telephone conversations.)
At the time, I was living with my family in Chicago. My parents had retired to Florida in 1983. When I flew down to check on them that September, I was shocked to discover that my 83-year-old mother was virtually comatose from over-medication. My 84-year-old father, increasingly frail himself, was overwhelmed by Mom’s decline and in denial about his own failing health.
My mother, who was suffering from mild depression and severe pain in her back and legs, spent long hours every day staring blankly at the television. At night, she shuffled back and forth throughout their house, lost in a medication fog. She rarely ate enough — drank enough — or slept enough.
She suffered for years because Dad didn’t realize that her symptoms were caused by over-medication, not the natural aging process. As a member of “the Greatest Generation,” Dad never questioned her doctor’s orders or the eleven medications she was taking.
At one point, Dad — a typical man’s man who hated to admit weakness — pulled me aside and haltingly confessed that he was completely overwhelmed by Mom’s care. I think he felt a little ashamed that he was so physically and emotionally drained. Fortunately, we found a home health agency that provided the help he and Mom needed.
In January 2001, Dad needed brain surgery to correct a newly discovered condition. Once again, I flew to Florida to help monitor Mom’s care while Dad was recovering. Tragically, Dad had a massive stroke the day after his surgery and “died” in my arms (no movement other than breathing and heartbeat) as I was holding him in position for a spinal x-ray. He lingered for days until Mom made the agonizing decision to take him off life support — just 3 days before Valentine’s Day, their favorite day of the year.
Overnight, I had become a long-distance caregiver for my frail, elderly mother. And, I suddenly felt just as overwhelmed as my Dad had just a few months earlier.
During the first year, I commuted back and forth by air and spent 25 weeks at her side, helping her transition to life as a new widow and coping with her multiple chronic medical conditions. In the following two and a half years, I spent one week every month going with her to her many medical appointments, being with her during every hospitalization, handling her finances, working with her caregivers, etc.
It was a huge drain on my own family, but I was self-employed, and I could set my own schedule. Most long-distance caregivers aren’t that lucky.
The cost to me? My first marriage. (Actually, the marriage had failed years earlier.) Regrets? None. On the other hand, I was able to help my mother live a life of meaning and happiness during her final years. That I won’t trade for anything.
I saw and learned a lot during those days — but mostly just about people who were caught somewhere in the progressive stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, or were old, frail, sick and worn out. Far too many of them were simply dumped by their adult children into nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Once there, those “dutiful” children waited impatiently for their parents to die so they could collect their “rightful inheritance.”
Most of us become caregivers in crisis situations. We don’t have time to spend hours on the phone or surfing the Internet, digging for the information that can help us care for our parents or protect their dignity. As I said, I was very lucky. I had the means to travel to care for my folks. Bless them, my parents — who grew up during the Depression — had accumulated a substantial nest egg to cover their retirement years.
As we all know firsthand, caregiving for someone, whether he or she is a full-blown narcissist, is caught somewhere in the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, or is simply old, frail, sick and worn out, is not an easy task. In fact, most of us never thought it would be this difficult, or that many of us would nearly lose ourselves in the process.
Since that fateful September in 2000, I’ve learned a lot about caring for the elderly — through online research to help my folks and in-depth discussions with a lot of eldercare experts. And, since I’m now in my early 70s, I’ve also had firsthand experience as a patient, going through some of the same difficulties and frustrations that older people go through. There are a lot of things that I don’t particularly like about the way patients and their caregivers are often treated, and how many are left alone to find their own way through the continuum of healthcare services they need to recover.
As a result, I’ve developed a strong passion for improving the quality of life for both elderly patients and their family caregivers. I firmly believe that there are better ways to get things done in our healthcare system. (Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle is from medical professionals who say “But, that’s the way we’ve always done it.”) Since I’ve “been there, done that,” I’ve found some new ways to reduce the stress of caring for an elderly loved one and I want to share them with you via this website.
I wholeheartedly welcome your participation. While I’ve found quite a few things that worked well for me, It would be great if you would use the comments section that appears on most pages to share what has worked well for you. By working together, we can develop the tools to help other people who are just beginning their journey through eldercare to avoid many of the frustrations and pitfalls that you and I experienced during our own journeys.
To help families overcome the many challenges of caring for elderly loved ones in a manner that helps their loved ones:
- have a sense of purpose — a reason to look forward to getting up every day — a life worth living instead of just waiting to die;
- maintain as much control over their lives as feasible;
- considers their desires as well as their needs;
- truly respects them; and
- allows them to live out their lives with dignity.
I encourage the development of balanced partnerships, so to speak, between elders and their caregivers — cooperative partnerships that also recognize the needs of the caregivers and their own families.
Rather than follow the medical model of care, I much prefer to focus on Dignity and Quality of Life. My goal is to provide family caregivers with the information and tools for empathetic caregiving, thus reducing their stress in a major way, and making a huge improvement in the quality of life for their loved ones.