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The Challenges Of Caring For Aging Parents During A Pandemic


Amanda Tackett was asleep at home in Florida when she got a call in the middle of the night.

AMANDA TACKETT: You know, when the phone rings at 2:30 in the morning, it's usually never a good thing.

MARTIN: It was her dad calling from Texas. Her mom, who has dementia, had had a stroke. She was in the hospital, and her dad was beside himself. She was going to be OK, but Amanda's dad had his own health problems, and he wasn't going to be able to take care of her on his own. Then Amanda and her husband picked up a conversation they had been having on and off for years.

TACKETT: What is the point that my parents can no longer manage on their own? And what's the goal? And the goal is to keep them together and to keep them in their own home, if possible. I knew that they were not going to be able to manage everything. You know, the hospitalization - maybe. My mom's dementia and my dad's, you know, physical decline - possibly. But then you throw in a pandemic.

MARTIN: It was mid-March, just as the federal government started ramping up its warnings about COVID-19. There were already thousands of cases across the country.

TACKETT: I really was not comfortable leaving them by themselves. So I jumped in the car and made the two-day drive from Florida to Texas.

MARTIN: Amanda drove until 3:00 in the morning. She stopped at a motel to sleep for a few hours, and then she got right back in the car. She tried to focus on the journey, but it was hard to keep all the emotions at bay.

TACKETT: I was pretty terrified. You know, I cried on and off. By that point, I was already wearing gloves, and I had, you know, Lysol spray and disinfectant wipes. And I was wiping everything down because I had spoken to one of my doctors on the phone, basically just advising me that I could bring the virus to my parents.

MARTIN: That was four weeks ago. And when she arrived in Texas, Amanda's parents didn't quite understand the scope of the pandemic.

TACKETT: They were really buying into the line that it was a hoax or that it was just like the flu. So my mom was really not able to speak more than a couple of words at a time pretty much for a whole week.

And then one of her favorite programs, "Judge Judy," was interrupted and - for a press conference in Dallas talking about the lockdown. And my mom's eyes got huge, and she turned and looked at me, and she said, what in the hell is going on? And that was the first sentence that she spoke. And I just said, you know, Mom, there's a lot of really dangerous germs going around, and that's why we are not going out to eat. That's why I'm here. That's why we have to be so careful. You know, with the dementia, they lock onto, like, one concept or one idea, and they repeat that over and over again.

So for a couple of days, it was the question of, are we going to be OK? Are we going to die from this? And, you know, you just have to patiently answer the question every time it's asked. I think we're going to be OK. We're doing everything we can. I love you guys very much. And I'm going to stay as long as it takes.

MARTIN: What's life like between the doctor's appointments? Are there moments of joy?

TACKETT: (Laughter) There are. And, you know, my parents still have a great quality of life. Now, they do like the TV show "Gunsmoke," and so they are binge-watching "Gunsmoke." And...

MARTIN: That is old school. That is going back in time.


TACKETT: Absolutely. So we're watching a lot of "Gunsmoke" and other TV shows, old westerns. We've been renting a movie a couple of times a week for my dad and I to watch.


TACKETT: So he actually saw "Apollo 13" for the first time. Loved it (laughter).


TACKETT: So we're, you know - and I prepare their meals. And, you know, yesterday, we had a bit of a drama because my dad had to eat my mom's bread because my dad's bread was not available at the store.


TACKETT: And then the other - yeah. The other issue is they like these microwave breakfast sandwiches in the morning. And I'm just telling you, if you like the Jimmy Dean sausage biscuit, that is the new toilet paper. Very hard to find. So...

MARTIN: (Laughter) Really?

TACKETT: Yes. So they have not been to a store in several weeks. And I've brought pictures back on my phone of the shelves cleared out and what the selection was.

MARTIN: To prove to them you're not lying.

TACKETT: Yes. But I am - you know, I also am trying to get as many of the specialty things on my handful - handful - of trips out into the world.


TACKETT: Because, also, I don't want them to panic, and I don't want them, you know, to worry.

MARTIN: It's my understanding you're also helping out other people in their neighborhood. Is that right?

TACKETT: I'm trying. My parents live in the same neighborhood where I grew up. So they've been fixtures here since 1973.

MARTIN: You know these people, then. You grew up with them.

TACKETT: Yes. Yes. In fact, I have a woman across the street who's legally blind, and the woman next door is in a wheelchair, and her mother just got out of a rehab hospital. So she's, you know, kind of in the same position, taking care of her family. So there's a lot of elderly people here. And we're just doing the best we can. You know, when my mom's dementia started, she - I don't know, was, I guess, what I would say, overbuying and kind of hoarding things. That has actually worked to our benefit. And I found four gallons of hand sanitizer...


TACKETT: ...If you can believe that.


TACKETT: And so I've been buying travel bottles at the pharmacy and filling them.

MARTIN: It's like winning the lottery.

TACKETT: Oh, yeah. And, I mean, if somebody doesn't have it, I'm like, well, let me just drop this off on your porch, you know?


TACKETT: So that part, we're really covered. And wipes and Lysol - we've got plenty of everything.

MARTIN: Yeah. How are you doing?

TACKETT: I'm tired. I'm tired, and I'm worried. But I don't regret coming. And, you know, my dad's telling funny old stories about the military and telling, you know, stories about growing up on a ranch, and those are the good things that I'm going to remember from this, you know? We're just going to make the best of this.

MARTIN: Amanda Tackett, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

TACKETT: Hey, thanks for visiting this topic.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLENN JONES' "OF ITS OWN KIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.