Still visit those who no longer recognize you
Dear Carol: My dad has late stage Alzheimer's and is in a nursing home in our community where he seems to be receiving good care. Mom is with him every day. He no longer recognizes either of us, but Mom says that he is her husband and she will be there with him. I respect and understand that.
I'm married and have a full-time job and three children who are in many activities so it's not easy for me to take the time to visit my dad. He doesn't recognize me so I don't know how important my visits are anyway, but Mom thinks that it matters to Dad. I do want to see him, even though it's painful, so I feel guilty if I don't go at least once a week, but I balance the normal chaos of working and raising children along with making it a point to see Dad. Should I still visit even though he won't remember? — GT
Dear GT: I understand how busy you must be. I, too, was the mother of young children while providing care for the older generation. Juggling the needs of so many people is difficult, and no matter what we do there's often guilt because we feel that one of the generations is being cheated of our time while we care for the other. Still, I have to say to you, yes, it's important to visit your dad, for his sake, for your mom's sake and for your sake.
The fact that your mom is with your dad daily takes a lot of pressure off of you as far as your dad's advocacy needs, but it's still good to have a second set of eyes on him to make certain that he's getting the kind of care you think he is. Aside from that, your mom needs your support and, even though she may not be aware of these feelings, you are modeling the kind of attention that you'll pay to her when she becomes less able to care for herself.
Perhaps most important, in my view at least, is the fact that we really can't know how much people who are no longer able to show recognition of a loved one takes in. If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't want to take a chance on whether or not my dad understood that I was there with him, because awareness doesn't always show. Perhaps your dad recognizes your voice or your touch. There's truly no way for you to know, so I believe that it's important to keep showing up.
You are also doing this for you. When your dad is gone, you'll want to look back and know that you did what you could for your dad under the circumstances that you are faced with. You shouldn't neglect your children, your husband, or even yourself. However, these visits are important. I urge you to continue them. Eventually, you'll think back and be glad that you did.
Carol Bradley Bursack is an established columnist, blogger, and the author of a support book on caregiving. She hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. Carol can be reached at email@example.com.