Little Rock Coach Turns Caregiver

By Ben Boulden

Grady O. Brown, a Little Rock gymnastics coach, found himself in that position as he tried to help his mother, Virginia, 81, as she cared for his father, 84, also named Grady.

Brown turned to Donna LeBlanc, a caregiving coach with SUCCESS, part of the Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program at the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.

“My dad can still get around physically,” Brown said. “He can dress himself, feed himself and go to the bathroom. He is pretty independent and doesn’t need a lot of caregiving. My mom’s caregiving is companionship and support. What I have tried to provide for my mom is the patience and knowledge for her to understand some of my dad’s behavior.”

In 2017, Brown’s father had a stroke. Although his initial recovery seemed quick, he soon began showing signs of dementia, especially confusion and a loss of short-term memory. Brown said among the physicians consulted, there never has been a clear consensus as to the cause of his father’s dementia. One attributes it to vascular dementia and another to Alzheimer’s disease.

“A lot of what I have done through my work with Donna is provide ways for my mom to strategically handle certain scenarios, maybe giving her some vocabulary or dialogue she can try,” Brown said. “Reminding her about my dad’s condition. She would reel back if I said ‘dementia’ or ‘Alzheimer’s’ before, so Donna suggested talking about his ‘condition.’”

His father feels very tethered to Virginia, Brown said. While his father might not have anything to say to his mother, he’s calmer when she’s present.

When his father was a young man, he was a mechanic and owned and operated a service station in front of the family home in Higden. Later in life, he had a second career as a mechanic on offshore oil rigs. Brown’s father doesn’t always like to go for walks just for exercise, but he frequently goes to a front window of the home to look out at the service station, now occupied by another business.

Brown said his father knows the business isn’t his, but he likes looking at the old station building and reminiscing. His long-term memory remains largely intact. The trips to the window and his frequent rewinding of a mechanical clock there sometimes would frustrate Virginia, Brown said.

Leblanc gave them another more positive way to interpret the behavior of Brown’s father. She said getting up and going to the window was a form of exercise and better for him than just sitting.

Further advice from Leblanc led to Virginia taking about 10 hours a week off from caregiving to do things for herself like run personal errands or visit a friend.

“I think Donna lifted that veil of guilt and shame,” Brown said. “She almost made it normal and gave my mom permission to still do what made her happy and gave her joy. She rarely worked outside of the home. Her job was in the house, and she took beautiful care of all of us. It became important for her to understand the value of self-care. The caregiving and the stress was starting to take a toll on my mom.”

Leblanc also pointed Brown to online and printed resources for information about caregiving and dementia as well as giving practical advice to Brown and through him to his mother and two older sisters.

Brown said his father’s condition has changed some of the interpersonal family dynamics, too. “I think when you provide care for someone with whom you have that kind of relationship you have to be able to step out of that role a little bit and push the boundaries of the relationship to the benefit of the patient.”

What’s necessary for a loved one’s well-being may not always be something a family member is used to doing for them. It’s a sacrifice in action that comes from the heart.

“Caregiving is rooted in love and care,” Brown said. “I have always known that.”