A veteran smiling in a large crowd

How Creativity Helps Me Care for My Veteran Father

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Donna’s father, Thomas

I care for my 94-year-old dad, Thomas Akers, a proud World War II veteran. He suffers from prostate cancer and vision impairment. He’s legally blind in his right eye from an accident as a child, and suffers from glaucoma in his left eye. Despite his ailing health, my dad’s tough. Until recently, his idea of a painkiller was one Extra Strength Tylenol. He’s smart and savvy too. He cheated on his vision test in order to get into the Army. He would memorize the vision chart before his eye exams and pass with flying colors. As time has marched on, I’ve had to come up with a variety of solutions to the problems that surface in caring for my father. This is how I’ve had to get creative while taking care of my dad.

Lots of love and lots of neon

Currently I care for my dad at home, sharing the responsibility with my husband and daughter since 2017. Due to my dad’s eyesight, we had to find ways to help him navigate our home. We made a “runway” from our kitchen door to the dinning room using orange duct tape on one side and neon yellow on the other so he can see which side he is on. I’ve also added the yellow duct tape to the edges of the kitchen table so he doesn’t place items too close to the edge and knock them off. I cut his food in bite-sized pieces, and make sure to always use bright, primary colors for his bowls. I’ve had to create other practical solutions and systems for myself where none exist. For example: I stay organized by keeping a list of medications, allergies, surgeries, emergency contacts, doctors’ numbers, and insurance policy information on a cloud-based platform accessible via smartphone. Before certain appointments, I print out a copy of what’s needed and just hand it to the nurse. If there is an emergency, I just pull the necessary information on my phone and hand it to the EMT. I give access to others that may help with caregiving. This system makes new patient paperwork so much easier and faster because I just have to write “See attached.”

Unlocking creativity outside of our home

We don’t keep the solutions under lock and key at our home. My father can still get around a bit on his own, so we recently put that to the test. I took my dad on an honor flight, the fourth ever from Indiana. Honor Flight is a program in which local pilots take veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials that honor them. He walked most of the way during that trip, and as he was coming up to the Lincoln Memorial, he finally got in the wheel chair provided. At that very moment, several people surrounded him and thanked him. It was a special moment. Obviously, caregiving is a day-to-day challenge, but I am proud of my dad. I look at this journey this way: If I can help others in their similar journeys, then I am glad to share whatever I can!

My advice to other caregivers

The most important aspect of caregiving I’ve learned is to take care of yourself. I thought I was doing OK while caring for my mom, but I wound up going to the ER one night. It appeared I was having a stroke. After several tests & scans & an overnight stay in the hospital, the conclusion was stress basically gave my brain a concussion. It took weeks to recover from it. If you think you are taking enough time for yourself, double it, because you probably aren’t.

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