About four and a half years ago, I was busy being An American in Lima when something turned my tidy expat life upside-down: My dad, an 86-year-old widower in northern Florida, suddenly became unable to care for himself.
In the space of a month, my father went from cooking his own meals and driving himself to the grocery store and Masonic meetings to sitting 24/7 in his La-Z-Boy, subsisting on Townhouse crackers and not getting up to use the bathroom. “Failure to thrive,” was the EMTs’ on-the-spot diagnosis; at the local hospital, he was treated for a urinary tract infection and subjected to tests, all inconclusive. When I arrived at the hospital from overseas, I found him sitting up in bed, unshaven, twenty pounds skinnier, with no clear memory of what had happened. To the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, most of it thankfully covered by insurance, he gained back the weight and learned to walk again, but he never regained his former mental faculties or his independence.
It was at rehab that I first saw written on his medical charts: “mild DAT [Dementia Alzheimer’s Type].” Soon that was upgraded to “moderate to severe.” Thus he officially joined the more than 5 million Americans currently struggling with the disease, and I became one of the 15 million+ caregivers in the U.S. overseeing their loved ones’ daily lives.
Even worse, my father was one of the 5 to 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who become violent, and he was prone to sun-downing. He even ran away from rehab once he was back on his feet. How was I, his only child, going to find a way to keep him safe and well—and not go crazy or bankrupt in the process?
This blog shares how my husband and I solved these dilemmas by doing something unorthodox: We moved my father to Lima, Peru. There eldercare is less invasive but more personalized and certainly more affordable. For about US$36,000 a year we got him round-the-clock nursing aides and doctors who made in-house visits, and later we transferred him to a 20-bed private facility for dementia patients; similar treatment in the States would have run us about $300,000. In Our Real-life Adventures, I share some of how we did this, as well as the pros and cons, so that anyone reading this blog can figure out if eldercare south of the border might be right for them. (See also the Resources pages.)
But my dad’s Peruvian Alzheimer’s Adventure didn’t only save us money: It opened our eyes to a more compassionate, less interventionist, style of caring for the aged. Pioneering American geriatrician Dennis McCullough called this palliative-centered approach “slow medicine”; families in Latin America might simply describe it as cariño (loving affection). Now, not everyone can move their loved one with dementia to a developing country, but I believe that the United States, as a nation, should adopt more of the approaches that I saw practiced in Lima. This is what I reflect in Lessons Learned, which is part of my my book-in-progress.
If you made it this far in “About the Blog” and you’re a caregiver to someone with dementia, then congratulations! You’re having one of those rare good days, one with enough free time to read more than the fine print on a bottle of pills. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you become a regular reader. I promise to make good on my end by keeping my posts short, succinct and honest, and by regularly posting about Our Real-life Adventures in Alzheimer’s care; Lessons Learned in Peru that can be applied to the U.S.; news about dementia care and slow medicine; and links to Resources about eldercare in Latin America.
I’d love to get your feedback on my ideas.
Welcome to my our Peruvian Alzheimer’s Adventure.