Patti LaFleur doesn’t know if her mother recognizes her, but her eyes light up when LaFleur enters the room. It’s just another reality of caring for her mom, Linda LaTurner, who is entering the later stages of dementia.
“The relationship that I have with my mom is so special that it doesn’t feel as hard as maybe as it should,” LaFleur told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse about caregiving last week. “She provided me the best life ever so I can grow up to be this strong, kind wonderful, person. It’s my turn, I guess.”
Whether it is adjusting to her mom’s cognitive changes or making it to the next respite weekend, LaFleur manages to take it in stride. On the day LaFleur talked to McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse, her mom was having an evaluation for hospice. Just weeks earlier, LaFleur took her mother, who also has type 1 diabetes, to Disneyland. It was great for the first three days, but her mom’s colitis flare-up ended up in a hospitalization that set her on a declining course.
LaFleur, a former kindergarten teacher who married in 2018, strives to enjoy every moment.
“My mom and I have fun every day,” LaFleur said. “We’re living our best lives.”
The last few years have not exactly been easy. LaFleur’s father, who passed away in November, also was diagnosed with dementia. Two-and-a-half years ago, she began caring for her mom in her parents’ home. Then, after six months, her mom, 73, came to live with her and her husband, Devin. Her dad moved to an assisted living facility.
Initially, she cared for her mom and worked as a kindergarten teacher. Quickly finding out that was impossible and as she had the financial means, she quit her job. Her days with her mom have taken on the structure of her former job. Wake up at 6:30, exercise for a half an hour, then wake up Mom. Lift her and take her to the bathroom. Then breakfast and meds and get dressed. After a short nap for her mom, it’s art class or activity at home. Lunch is at 1, followed by another activity. Watch Kelly Clarkson at 2:30. Bathroom is at 4. Dinner is at 5, followed by another activity. Everyone convenes in the living room at 6:30 for a movie. Bedtime for her mom is at around 8:30. Then it’s LaFleur’s time.
LaFleur quickly points out couldn’t do what she is doing without Devin, who encouraged her to have her mother live with them. His father also died in the last few years, and he wishes he had another year with him.
Devin, whose job affords him flexibility, “is very hands-on,” LaFleur said. Aside from the dressing and bathing, he helps her with the caregiving, and does the lifting.
“I didn’t know he would be that amazing when I married him,” LaFleur said.
While the two would like a family, that part of the story will have to wait, LaFleur said.
“Sometimes you take on one chapter at a time,” she said.
LaFleur is not shy about talking about her passion as a caregiver for her mom, who adopted her and her sister. She also is outspoken about raising awareness about dementia.
“I think I’m an inspiration in that I am encouraging people to share their stories because for so long people were embarrassed to talk about dementia,” said LaFleur, who is trained as Dementia Friends facilitator and has a support group on Facebook, Young Caregivers for Loved Ones with Dementia.
LaFleur, who posts regularly about her caregiving experiences on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, says her social media outlet is another form of advocacy.
It’s about “raising awareness of the love and joy my mom and I have,” she said.
Her advice for other informal caregivers? “Find a support system,” said LaFleur, whose mom does a respite stay at a nearby facility every six weeks. “They are going to give you the lifeline.”
As hard as caring for her mom is, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We just have a really positive relationship,” she said. “I fully believe I’m making the right decision so I can feel really confident and strong in it.”
Editor’s note: Patti LaFleur’s mom passed away following the publication of this story.
More from the editor: Home Sweet Home is a feature appearing Mondays in McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. The story focuses on a heartwarming, entertaining or quirky happening affecting the world of home care. If you have a topic that might be worthy of the spotlight in Home Sweet Home, please email Liza Berger at [email protected].