Family Caregivers +
Marie Smith Center =
Keeping Elderly Loved Ones Safe
Sydney and Leroy’s retirement plans changed drastically when Leroy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
But the Marie Smith Center gives Sydney the respite she needs to keep him at home.
“Oh, Leroy! You’ve fallen again.”
Sydney Bush has just gone to wake her husband of 50 years from his nap when she finds him twisted on his back, stuck half way under the bed. The short, gray-haired woman wastes no time and moves furniture, attempting to heave the man, frail from Parkinson’s disease yet still twice her size, off the floor. She agonizes about whether she can help him up or if she will need to call the fire department for help.
“Now you see why we go to the Marie Smith Center,” she says between breaths.
The proud Norwegian descendent describes the man she’d met in college, from his time as a Marine to raising their own two children while fostering over 50 babies and young children. “He was a good man, a hard worker, loved his children,” she says.
Fifteen years ago, Leroy Bush was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The couple planned to retire and backpack in the wilderness so that Leroy could pursue his love of photography. But on a cruise in 1999, Sydney realized this dream would never come true for her and her husband, who now needed a cane to walk. It was the last trip the couple would take together.
As Leroy’s disease progressed, Sydney became her husband’s caregiver, giving him 18 pills a day for a growing list of ailments. Adding to the stress, the Parkinson’s disease and medication cause Leroy to hallucinate. “When it gets dark out, he’ll say things like ‘look at those kids out in the trees.’ It’s scary.” As a result, Sydney does not get a lot of sleep.
Besides Leroy’s health, Sydney also worries about his quality of life. “He was educated and had beautiful handwriting,” she says. “Now he can barely write his name. He gets frustrated because he can’t figure out how to put away the silverware.” Because Parkinson’s disease affects movement and coordination, Leroy falls frequently, sometimes three times a day. He hasn’t seriously hurt himself, and Sydney hasn’t been injured trying to help him. “Yet,” she adds. “It’s stressful.”
Relief came two years ago when her daughter told her about the Marie Smith Center. “The place was so clean, and friendly, and happy.” She signed him up for two days a week and soon increased that to three days a week.
“I don’t worry about him while he’s there,” Sydney says. He gets a bath, which is too dangerous for her to do at home. He also enjoys lunch, socializes with his friends from the VA, loves to play bingo and participates in mental exercises like trivia, as well as physical exercises to help maintain his strength. “Instead of puttering around, watching TV, and driving me crazy,” Sydney says with a laugh. She, in turn, can go to an exercise class, work on her Norwegian paintings, or catch up on sleep. “It’s helped our relationship a lot,” she says.
Like Sydney, concern about safety is a major stressor for many caregivers, but the Marie Smith Center has helped to ease that stress. “We provide trained and caring eyes on individuals during the day,” says Tiffany McKenna, Program Director of Volunteers of America Oregon’s two Adult Day Centers – the Marie Smith Center and Lambert House. “Our goal is to support caregivers and help our participants maintain their current level of function so that they can remain in the community with their loved ones for as long as possible.”
Back in the bedroom, Sydney finally maneuvers Leroy onto a chair where he can stand on his own and walk into the dining room, where the walls are lined with photos of the couple and of the children they’ve cared for. Although Sydney is exhausted, there’s a love and determination to keep her husband with her, at home, where the Marie Smith Center helps him stay.
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