Photo of Francey Jesson and her mother

Behavior

For Family, Caregiving is a Choice

Francey Jesson’s life took a dramatic turn in 2014 when she lost her job at Santa Fe, New Mexico’s airport after a dispute with the city. In 2015, she relocated to Sarasota, Florida to be close to her family. One day, her mother, who has dementia, started crying over the telephone.

Jesson had always known she would be her mother’s caregiver, and that time had arrived. She and her brother combined resources and bought a house in Sarasota, and Jesson and her mother moved in.

“It wasn’t difficult to decide. What was difficult was everything that came with it,” she said.

One reason for the rocky adjustment was that Jesson, who is single, had been preparing herself mentally to take care of her mother’s physical needs in old age. But Kay Jesson, at 88, is in pretty good health. She requires full-time care because she has cerebral vascular dementia, the roots of which can be traced back to a stroke more than 15 years ago.

She is still able to function and has not lost her social skills. Her muscle memory is also intact, allowing her to chop onions while her daughter cooks dinner. But she forgets to turn off the water in the bathtub, mixes up her pills, can’t remember who her great-grandchildren are, and is unable to distinguish fresh food from rotting food in the refrigerator.

She’s also developed a childlike impatience and constantly interrupts her daughter, who works from home for her brother’s online company. “When she’s hungry, she’s hungry,” Francey Jesson said about her mother.

“Nothing ever stops for me. I can’t sit in a room and not be interrupted,” she said. “Sometimes I just want to watch TV for an hour.”

One way she copes is to approach caregiving with a combination of love and bemusement. She uses “therapeutic fibbing” to protect her mother’s feelings, for example, telling her that a friend who died has moved instead to Kansas so she doesn’t grieve over and over again.  Francey Jesson also resorts to humor in a blog she writes about her day-to-day experiences. In one article, “Debating with Dementia,” she recounted a conversation about the best way to repair some bathroom floor tile:

Mom: Did you go to a tile store? Daughter: I went to the hardware store. Mom: They don’t know! You have to go to a tile store! … You can’t do this. You need to talk to experts. Daughter: I’ll call Mike (nephew). He did tile work for years. Mom: Oh! He did tile work for years! How do you know he knows? He was just the guy who worked for the owner! Can’t you soak it off?

Full-time caregiving has been a financial struggle for Francey Jesson. Before her brother hired her, she didn’t have much success drumming up work as a freelance editor and depleted her and her mother’s savings. “I’d get to the end of the month and I’d be flat broke.” She eventually filed for bankruptcy, she said. Today, she runs the household by combining her earnings from her brother’s company with her mother’s Social Security and veterans benefits.

Writing a blog has surprisingly made her life as a caregiver a little easier – she has nearly 3,600 Twitter followers. “Every once in a while I get a message that says your blog really helped me,” and “that makes me feel good,” she said.  The blog also has given Jesson support and a new perspective on her situation, because she sees that other caregivers are dealing with more severe dementia than her mother’s. “It’s not nearly as hard for me as it is for some other folks,” she said.

Caring for her mother presents challenges every single day. Still, Jesson wouldn’t have it any other way.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

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