Although she isn’t aware of it, 70-year-old Doris Garrett, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a decade ago, has such a committed support team that she is able to remain in her lifelong home instead of having to live in a nursing home.
For almost 13 years, Arc support specialist Melissa Meyers and her son Austin have lived with Doris, in Doris’s home. Melissa remembers when Doris helped around the house and was “pretty independent.” Not so anymore. When Doris isn’t at the medical day center she attends seven days a week, she moves Duplo blocks around, plays with an activity apron, or pets Melissa’s dog and cats. “She will watch a little TV but mostly points at it and talks to it,” Melissa explains. “She used to be able to write the daily lottery numbers down, but she can’t do that anymore.”
The Arc provides support for Doris from 3 p.m. until 9 a.m. every day. Melissa is with Doris until 11, after which overnight staff takes over. Members of that team are important because Doris tends to stay awake all night after days she is unable to go to the center.
On very cold days, when Doris is under doctor’s orders to stay inside, her sister, Shirley Garrett, fills in between shifts. Shirley also handles doctor appointments and finances.
Doris requires a lot of care. In addition to bathing and dressing her, Melissa has to puree all of Doris’s food and feed her. Ever since Doris had aspiration pneumonia, liquids have had to be thickened for her. She has kidney disease, too, so her fluids have to be limited. “Melissa has worked out a schedule for fluids and feeding,” says Shirley. “She has done an excellent job figuring all that out.”
Both Shirley and Melissa attend The Arc’s team meetings. Says Shirley, “Sometimes we need strategies for redirecting certain behaviors. We have always gotten helpful suggestions.”
The dedicated pair of caregivers sees each other three or four times a week. They seem to agree on everything, including the importance of seeking out each other’s opinion, especially about medical issues. It’s clear they have developed a natural rhythm, like an old married couple—minus the arguments.
“We’ve been together so long we think the same,” Melissa says. “Doris’ family is part of my family, and my family is part of Doris’.”
Shirley says Doris had no trouble adjusting when Melissa and Austin moved in. She says, “The living arrangement gave Doris the opportunity to go out more often and experience new things.
“I don’t know what I would have done without Melissa, but I am certain I would have had to give up my home. It’s like Melissa knows my sister better than I do. She is very in tune with Doris. It’s almost like she can read Doris’ mind.
“It has been hard to see my sister decline, but the good thing is that she isn’t aware. She still seems content. And Melissa hasn’t given up on her. She says she will be there for Doris for as long as we need her. Given the circumstances, the situation couldn’t have worked out better.”