A Journey Together | United Way of Greater St. Louis

Watching a loved one’s health deteriorate is painful. They attempt to do simple household things but can’t. They’re forgetful. They spiral into a deep depression, distance themselves from the world and refuse to leave their bed. Things they once loved no longer hold their interest.

It’s heart-wrenching to watch. It’s difficult not knowing how you can help.

And it’s even more difficult when it’s your parent.

Two years ago, Lisa watched her 94-year-old mother’s health decline. She had dementia, and it was progressing much faster than anyone expected. It progressed so quickly that she could no longer function on her own, refused to leave her bed most days, and disconnected herself from friends and family. The more she was alone, the more depressed she became.

“She was in a prison of sorts in her own mind and physically became more and more reclusive,” Lisa said.

Doctors confirmed Pat could no longer live by herself. As a full-time teacher, student and single mom to 5-year-old Andrea, whom she adopted as a baby, Lisa was at a crossroads.

She sold her home and moved with her daughter to her mom’s house in Collinsville, Illinois. She began attending a monthly caregivers support group at St. John’s Community Care, a United Way supported agency located just a few streets away. She learned how to care for her mom and how to navigate the murky waters of her condition, but she needed more. Living with her mother, Lisa saw just how progressed her mother’s dementia was and how much it affected her quality of life.

“With those who have dementia, there are a lot of things you don’t see unless you’re living with them,” Lisa said.

Having dementia, being hard of hearing and legally blind required far more care than Lisa was prepared for, and in order for her to continue her career, schooling, parenting and life in general, Lisa needed help. She couldn’t do it alone.

While attending St. John’s support group, she learned about their Adult Day Program. She was hesitant but knew she couldn’t afford to quit her job, nor could she deny the care her mother required.

“At the most basic level I needed to know that my mom was in a safe place,” Lisa said. “And that’s all I was really expecting, but they have provided so much more.”

Little did Lisa know that the program would do more than just care for her mother and fulfill her basic needs; they would bring her mom back into the world of the living. Lisa began to see glimpses of her mom again, something she never thought she’d see. She was engaged cognitively, socially and physically through games, music and art therapy, exercise and dancing.

“I visited one day and there she was — my mother — dancing. And not just dancing but pulling other people in with her,” Lisa said. “It was freeing.”

Before attending St. John’s, Lisa watched her mother slip away, not knowing how else to help. Now Pat spends hours talking about her new friends and the day’s activities at St. John’s. They’ve given her a higher quality of life and have helped pull her out of her depression.

“Knowing she’s happy and engaged with the world again allows me some freedom to do my work and pursue my own passions which is impossible without knowing that she’s safe,” Lisa said. “Just like with my daughter, I can’t live my life without knowing my family is safe.”

St. John’s has given Lisa the opportunity to continue her life and focus on raising her daughter with peace of mind that her mother is in good hands, enjoying a renewed sense of purpose.

“They’ve given her a life again,” Lisa said. “And she’s happy.”

Watch Pat & Lisa’s story:

About St. John’s Community Care
St. John’s Community Care improves the quality of life for older and disabled adults living in the community, preserving their sense of dignity through promoting independence. They provide companionship, a well-rounded activity and socialization program, family and caregiver support and wellness monitoring. St. John’s Community Care has been a United Way funded agency since 1991.