Joan’s dad is a veteran with advanced dementia. She talks about the decision to move him into a veterans’ long-term care facility in Ottawa, the joy he gets from life, and the ways they’re still able to show their love for one another.
“My husband and I started noticing things with my dad about 10 years ago. Forgetting to pay a bill. New bumps on his car, which he would say were caused by somebody else. Income tax documents all over the place.”
“So we started helping him about eight years ago. I went down twice a week to take him grocery shopping and to church on Sundays. My stepmother was declining as well. She fell and ended up in a long-term care home, and after that my father declined quite quickly. After two years we finally got a place for him in a long-term care veterans’ home. I was so grateful, because by that point he definitely was well into the dementia. He’s continued to decline in the three and a half years that he has been here.”
Did he accept your help?
“Not at the beginning. He wasn’t open to the fact that he was forgetting things. But as time progressed, he was more than willing to accept our help. As he got further on into the dementia, his physical abilities declined as well. He went from walking without a walker, to using a walker, to now being totally confined to a wheelchair.”
Was it a concern that he would be far away from his friends?
“At first, definitely. He had a very close church family. But by the time we did move him, he had forgotten a lot of the people that he knew. And he was excited about having the grandkids around him. So, I think it was quite a smooth transition.”
The day we got the call from the veterans’ long-term care home we were absolutely ecstatic because he would be near us and I would be able to see him on a daily basis. For us that was a real blessing. For him too, because he is surrounded not only by me, but his extended family.
“Sometimes he knows us and other times he doesn’t. Sometimes I am his daughter, sometimes I am a nice lady, sometimes I am his mother, sometimes I am just a person that comes to visit. And that’s okay. As I tell my kids, he may not know us, but we know him. The love and warmth we have for him is there, because he’s still dad and he’s still grandpa.”
Do you feel love from him back?
“Yes! He is a real charmer. Always has been. He just absolutely adores people. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, if you are good to him he picks up your hand and kisses it. There’s a young man who works there, William, who I think reminds him of his grandson. He is so warm and friendly with William. That’s the fun thing – he hasn’t lost his niceness. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get upset at times. He does. But he’s usually very loving and kind, and thanks people all the time.”
“One of the things dad absolutely enjoys is the music. I take him to all of the concerts and he just lights up when he is at the music events. And it’s not only my dad. When I look around the room, some of the other residents are in a very sad state. Their heads are down, they are not moving. You don’t even know if they are listening.”
But when the music starts you see their foot or a finger start to tap. It’s so uplifting to see. The music somehow reaches them, which to me is an amazing gift.
“This afternoon there’s a Christmas concert. We both have our Santa hats and we are going to be singing Jingle Bells to the group. It’s amazing—Dad remembers the words to the chorus of Jingle Bells! He laughs and thinks it’s funny that he and I are practicing in his room.”
“Dad has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is on oxygen 24/7.He has definitely diminished in the last three and a half years. Everything that my dad wants is written down. I will do everything I can to do exactly what he wants. He does not want to be resuscitated, and he does not want to leave his room. My dad has had pneumonia five times in the last three years.”
I think, in his own way, without being able to say it, Dad realizes that his time is not that long. But there’s still a joy and peace that he experiences on a daily basis.
“His funeral is all arranged. All we really have to do is call the family together when the time comes. The home will provide a cot for me, and I will be there in the room with him till the end.”
“I volunteer here – I take residents back and forth to different events, and help out on some committees. A lot of our veterans and residents are in their 80s and 90s; a couple are in their 100s. When you think about what they have given for the rest of us, it’s really a privilege to give back to them.”
“One dear lady is in a wheelchair that she maneuvers with her feet. She’s 100 years old and every time she sees you she grabs your hand and she says. “God bless you!” It’s a wonderful feeling. The joy of seeing the residents’ faces! They will tell you their stories. I really feel they are a part of my extended family. I get so much back from being a part of their lives.”
I am so grateful to the veterans’ home where my dad lives. The staff are amazing. From the guy who cleans the floor, to the guy at the top, to the girls who give ice cream on Wednesdays, to the cook in the kitchen. I mean you just couldn’t ask for better – personal support workers, registered practical nurses, registered nurses, they are all great.
My guess is that many people in Canada who have a loved one in a long-term care facility would not say what you just said.
“I agree. My stepmother was in a long term care home and there is no comparison between the one she was in and the care my dad gets here. The difference is the genuine care for the residents; they treat them with respect. There is a joyfulness that I have not seen in other long term care homes.”
Do you think that our society recognizes what our veterans and older folks have done for us, as much as we should?
“No, I don’t. I don’t want to sound cynical but I feel that we remember our veterans on November 11th and maybe the week prior, but not much other than that. And it’s not just our old veterans. Some of our modern veterans are dealing with PTSD, loss of limbs, mental illness, homelessness. I think people need to get more involved and speak up. These veterans need our help! They fought for us and defended what democracy is all about.”
And our elderly in general need our help. They shouldn’t be classified as “old people” and sometimes more or less get forgotten. This home gives them the respect, stimulation and care that brings them joy and pleasure, and we need to make sure that all long-term care homes meet those needs. I think that we can do a lot more than we are doing.
“The government needs to commit to keeping veterans’ long-term care homes open, not only for our senior veterans but for our modern veterans as well, who picked up the torch passed on by my father’s generation. All veterans deserve our respect and deserve to be taken care of.”