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Alzheimer's Association, New York City Chapter

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A Delicate Balance

Luz’s mother and father lived together in their downtown Brooklyn apartment until 2004, when her father passed away from cancer. In the months leading up to her Dad’s death, Luz began to notice some changes in her mother — her memory, mostly, but also some changes in her personality. Mom used to be sweet as pie but now, she can turn on a dime and gets very defensive whenever Luz asks her anything.

She figured the changes were related to her father’s illness and subsequent death. After all, caring for a spouse can be incredibly stressful and the death of her husband hit her mother quite hard.

Leave well enough alone, she thought.

During a visit with her mother a few weeks later, Luz noticed a stack of unopened mail. When she asked her mother about the pile, she said she could not be bothered. Luz again thought her mom was probably still depressed over the loss of her husband and did not think this was cause for too much concern. As she went through the mail, however, she learned that things were about to get much more complicated.

Dad always took care of the bills but since he became ill in 2001, Mom had taken over the responsibility. In the pile of mail, Luz found a letter from the management company of her mother’s apartment building, as well as letters from each of the utilities. According to the letters, Mom’s rent had not been paid in several months and two utilities had issued turn-off notices because of failure to pay.

Luz asked her mother what happened and she said she had paid those bills and the letters were wrong. “They just want my money,” she said. Luz followed up with each company and with the bank and learned that, unfortunately, the letters were accurate. She quickly took care of the rent and utility arrears, and then sat her mother down for a difficult conversation.

Luz told her mother that she was worried about her. Her mother admitted she wasn’t her usual self but couldn’t explain what was happening. Luz thought she should see a doctor, and together they made an appointment for later that week.

The doctor recommended Luz’s mother be seen for a diagnostic evaluation. When the results came back, they learned that she has Alzheimer’s disease.

In the months since her mother’s diagnosis, Luz has had a very rough time. She has become incredibly sad and anxious, affecting both her personal and professional lives. She wakes each morning in a near panic, worried about her mom, who lives alone. When her anxiety became too much to bear, she essentially moved back in with her mother, staying at her apartment at least five nights each week. This left little time for her to tend to her own life and friendships have suffered as a result. She speaks with her mother many times throughout the day while at work and her supervisor has started to complain.

Knowing something had to give, Luz reached out to the NYC Chapter and has been working with a care consultant. Together they registered Luz for several Chapter meetings including Understanding Dementia: What You Need to Know and Where to Go; Legal & Financial Seminar; and Medicaid Home Care so that she can start the ball rolling on ensuring her mother is well cared for as the disease progresses.

Once Luz began to put things in place to ensure her mother’s care, she had to start caring for herself. Luz and her care consultant speak regularly so that she can share her experiences and get a professional’s point of view. She is looking into private therapy and is considering a support group. Though it is still quite difficult for Luz to talk about the impact Alzheimer’s disease has had on her mother and herself, she knows she cannot do it alone.

And with the programs and services offered by the NYC Chapter, she does not have to.

Alzheimer’s Association Care Consultants are here to assist you as you navigate through this difficult process. If you would like to meet with a care consultant, please call the Chapter at 646-744-2900 or our 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900. Caregivers featured in this series have agreed to share their stories. Names have been changed to protect their anonymity.

— Matt Kudish, MSW
Director, Helpline & Care Consultation

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