Jackie’s Goodbye

by Tiffany Stanley,  NationalJournal

I became an Alzheimer’s caregiver the week of my 29th birthday. It was August 2012, and I was standing at my kitchen counter in Washington when I got a call from a family friend telling me, “We have a problem.” My father had been hospitalized with congestive heart failure.

For seven years, he’d been the primary caregiver for his older sister, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Without his oversight, she had followed his hospitalization with one of her own after collapsing in her bedroom from dehydration, or low blood sugar, or both. My 66-year-old aunt was a widow with no children. My father was a divorced bachelor, and I was an only child. They were my responsibility.

I had thought I would drive the eight hours to my hometown in South Carolina to get my aunt, Jackie Belcoe, settled back at home, and perhaps hire a nurse to come help out during the day. But when I got there, I found a much graver situation than I had expected.

Tucked into her hospital bed at Lexington Medical Center, Jackie looked so frail and sick that it was heartbreaking. She had been a hairdresser for many years and once owned her own salon. She was the woman who taught me to wear lipstick, who never left the house without her mascara on and her blond bob perfectly styled. Now, her hair was matted and unkempt. She needed a bath and her teeth brushed.

In the emergency room, a nurse had cut the urine-soaked T-shirt off her  body. When the paramedics found her, she told them she was 19 and lived at home with her parents.

Though her parents were no longer alive, it was true that she lived in the house where she had grown up. I soon learned that conditions there were as deplorable as the state she was found in. Her bed and sheets were soiled, and dirty laundry had been left beside the washer. A trail of feces stained the carpet from the bed to the bathroom. It was clear that Jackie, like many late-stage dementia patients, had become incontinent—a fact that perhaps a caregiver who was also a brother was too ashamed to admit. Full trash bags were piled in the kitchen. Shards of broken cups were scattered on the floor. The mess had attracted pests, and mice and flies had invaded the brick ranch house. Read the entire story.

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