Growing up, I had several mentors. They shaped me into a responsible family man. These authority figures included a close friend's parents — Sheryl and Charlie. I looked up to Charlie.
Sadly, Sheryl passed, and I attended her funeral. I'd expected some of the usual rituals — hugs, tears and comforting words; however, what I didn't expect were the changes I experienced when I spoke with Charlie. There’s already enough grieving and confusion associated with funerals, but nothing prepared me for my conversation with my best friend’s dad.
‘It’s me, David,’ I said repeatedly. Instead of smiling, Charlie eyed me with suspicion initially. It was as if he'd forgotten all the years when I was the chubby-faced kid he’d driven to school and rooted for on the soccer field.
Charlie had been another father figure to me throughout my teenage milestones and later, college. I was looking forward to telling Charlie the latest news about my life, my family. But it didn’t seem like he’d care, so I didn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the Charlie I met at the funeral. And it made me think of my own parents at home.
The Charlie at the funeral was no longer the man I recognized. His hair and clothes looked disheveled; shoes barely tied. Charlie’s face remained expressionless for several minutes before a family member reminded him who I was. An awkward pause and moments of uncertainty lingered. Charlie’s son, my close friend, saved the exchange. He stepped up and suggested everyone head to another room for refreshments.
But my mind was consumed by my encounter with Charlie. Was he experiencing dementia or specifically, Alzheimer's ? I was shocked. Memories raced through my head. I always made time to visit Charlie in between college semesters. He was always a source of wisdom and sound advice. Now several years later, just like Charlie’s son, I’m a married father with three girls; however, none of the details mattered when Charlie had lost the ability to remember. The funeral revealed how unprepared I was for the cognitive decline of my own mom and dad.
I put on a brave face. But secretly, I struggled with shock and sadness. The many years of advice and motivation from Charlie fueled my drive to succeed. Now I wanted to share a tough accomplishment and thank my mentor in person. Sadly, the aging process may have stolen our moment. When the funeral crowds thinned, my close friend pulled me aside to share with me that Charlie had been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s. Meaning Charlie had changed. I would undoubtedly never experience the man I had long known and trusted.
Charlie needed more help as his condition progressed. He’d require care for grooming, eating and help safely navigating his daily life. Every time I thought of this, I wondered how long it would be before my parents needed this kind of assistance.
After the funeral, I kept in touch with my friend, who was reaching a breaking point. He barely slept worrying about his father, Charlie. He didn’t want to leave his father alone in an empty house. He’d sleep over at his parents’ house, leaving his wife and children. My friend was at a loss for what to do next. He’d suddenly found himself in the sandwich generation , the adult group caring for both young and elderly loved ones.
Selfishly I must admit, the tables had turned for me too. My mentor couldn't be there to guide me anymore; however, I was curious about Charlie’s condition, so I talked to my close friend. We discussed our increasing financial pressures and emotional responsibilities. We needed to care for our growing families, and also elderly loved ones.
Planning was vital to make sure Charlie received quality care at home. He represented the overwhelming majority of elderly who desired to age in place. “Nine out of ten Americans 65 and older want to stay at home for as long as possible, and 80 percent think their current home is where they will always live,” according to a joint report by the Home Care Association of America and Global Coalition on Aging.
My friend tended to his father, Charlie, although the arrangement was not sustainable. He took a leave-of-absence at work, but he couldn’t be away as much as he needed. His wife also worked. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance , “Sixty-seven percent of family caregivers report conflicts between caregiving and employment, resulting in reduced work hours or unpaid leave.”
My friend needed to get back to earning a salary to provide for his family. “Alzheimer’s is the costliest disease in the United States,” per Healthline.com. “Its annual raw expense is more than $270 billion but the toll it takes on patients and caregivers alike is incalculable.”
My friend began researching what a dedicated professional caregiver could do for Charlie. This trained professional would come to Charlie’s home and provide care, which could help him save on costs. “Elderly American receiving home care generally need fewer trips to doctors and hospitals. As a result, home care reduces overall health care costs…” according to the joint report by the Home Care Association of America and Global Coalition on Aging. ?
The research proved that professional assistance could do what my friend could not. A caregiver can make sure Charlie stuck to a healthy, daily routine. Dressing, grooming, eating would become normal activities again despite Charlie’s memory loss. A professional caregiver would have the training to provide care for the elderly with dementia , Alzheimer's and a host of other conditions.
Meanwhile, this person would also provide companionship and care with dignity. Charlie wouldn’t need to feel lonely in his home. Companion care could tend to his emotional, spiritual and physical needs.
Seeing this new Charlie at the funeral was my alarming wake-up call. My parents are both in their late sixties. How long would it be until they could no longer live independently? Worse – I’m an only child.
Exploring the home care category with my friend put me at ease. But it wasn't enough to just know of these solutions – I needed a plan. This experience was a genuine wake-up call, a reminder that time stops for no one and that sooner or later, my parents will be in a similar situation.
If nothing else, this experienced helped me focus on ensuring Mom or Dad can stay in the comfort of their home – my old home – for as long as humanly possible.
Read more about the importance of being proactive with Mom or Dad by clicking here.
You provided assistance when I didn't know where to turn.
You provided assistance when I didn't know where to turn.