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Dementia: Staying at Home with Care and Love

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A Favorite Mystery Author Shares her Caregiving Experience

By Leslie Eckford

I have loved mystery novels for some time and several years ago, friends recommended the work of Louise Penny. I started with the first Chief Inspector Armand Garmache mystery, Still Life, set in the idyllic fictional  mountain village, Three Pines, in Quebec. I have been hooked ever since by Penny’s masterly weaving of murder, intrigue, a cast of familiar villagers and the warmhearted, yet highly professional and intuitive Chief Inspector.

Dementia Care

Recently, I came across an account by Louise Penny in AARP of her own, closer to home revelation of caring for her husband. In The Last Promise, Penny describes that her husband, Dr. Michael Whitehead, was diagnosed with dementia. Like many spouses and family members faced with this harrowing news, Penny attempted to refuse to allow it to change their lives, until she could no longer deny the alterations in her husband as the disease progressed.

Though a short piece, Louise Penny gently conveys the pain and trauma of trauma of living with the slow loss of a loved one with these devastating illnesses. At the same time, her words gave me hope. She described how to make the most of the situation, both for the family and for the person affected by this cruel disease. She realized that she would not be able to care for her husband alone. She found a better living environment for both of them. She made certain that she would be able to continue to write and have time to restore her sense of self and maintain her own health in spite of the stress of caregiving. She was able to hire caregivers to help at certain times. She was there with her husband, at home, when he passed away.

The Last Promise is sure to resonate with many family members. You may have been caregiving for so long now that you have forgotten what it was like in those early stages. Penny takes us back to that time when it was still not a complete certainty, but slowly the painful reality can no longer be avoided. Not every family can continue to take care of a person with dementia at home. As many of us know first hand, the behavior changes can become too much to manage in some home settings. However, Penny and her husband are able to make it work with a hard choice to exchange their much loved home in the country for a practical apartment and with caregivers’ assistance. In this brief description, Penny reminds us of how we can creatively come to terms with the promise of caring.

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