When Dante R. Greco turned up at a family party with long hair and a mangy beard, his disheveled appearance left his children deeply disturbed: “My father looked like a homeless person; he was barely recognizable,” said his daughter Tara R. Greco, recalling that day in early September 2013. It was a turning point. Her father, then 73, wouldn’t return to his home again.
Dante had been an accomplished plastic surgeon and chief of surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, and a physician in private practice. He had retired a few years earlier, but Tara and her brother hadn’t seen their father in several years, and neither had many of their relatives.
After the party, Tara brought him to the Cambridge, Mass. home that she shared with her young son. She arranged for a medical evaluation. He was assessed, briefly hospitalized, and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“It was startling and unsettling to see this man who was a powerhouse, suffering,” she said.
A sudden move
Greco slept in a leather chaise outside her father’s room in case he woke up or needed to go to the bathroom. She was on high alert: “Like a parent with a newborn… always listening for movement or a problem,” she recalled.
When the diagnosis came, Dante didn’t resist moving in. He needed help.
In the days and months that would follow, Greco slept in a leather chaise outside her father’s room in case he woke up or needed to go to the bathroom. She was on high alert: “Like a parent with a newborn… always listening for movement or a problem,” she recalled.
Tara took him to appointments, and began the time-consuming work of researching caregiving resources. Early on, when the hospital where he was evaluated requested medical records and other personal information, she encountered another challenge: His records were in disarray.
Complicating matters, his former girlfriend, who had been his office manager handling his finances, declined to hand over his bank and investments statements, tax returns or health records.
Her father granted her power of attorney, and she obtained a health care proxy and health care directive. She made several trips to New Jersey to sort through the contents of his house. It soon became apparent to her that her father’s ex girlfriend, as well as his broker and some other relatives had been taking advantage of him. They refused to relinquish legal documents, bank statements and cash that belonged to him. She hired an attorney and worked to untangle his finances.
Caring for her father had become a full-time responsibility and the single mother had stopped working completely. In 2015, she sold her dad’s house in New Jersey and late that year, she moved the family to a new home on one floor in Cambridge.
A life-altering experience
Over time, as Tara juggled her father’s care with her son’s routine, she found some help. She was able to access senior services provided by the city of Cambridge and other local resources, including an in-home caregiver who visited a few days a week. She also found a day program for her dad. Despite the challenges, she was grateful that her son had the chance to spend this time with her father.
But the frigid winters in Boston were hard for her dad. He needed more time outside. Her father had spoken over the years about escaping to Florida for the winters, so she started to rethink her plan. Her father owned a condo two blocks from the beach in Florida which offered a ready solution.
By late 2016, with most of her father’s affairs sorted out, Tara went into research mode again. She thought she could find him the care he needed to live on his own again. It was a big leap – deciding to relocate him. She visited Juno Beach, found local doctors and a licensed, bonded caregiving company. She interviewed caregivers, looked into social programs, grocery shopping and food delivery services, and arranged prescription refills, and automatic bill paying. And then they made the move.
Two years later, Dante has 24-hour caregivers and Tara arranges to visit around doctor’s appointments, traveling to see him about once a month.
A new normal
Back in Boston, Tara has found a new normal. Little by little she started socializing with friends again, and dating. And she hasmore time to focus on her son, who is now a college freshman.
She has not returned to work. She said managing her father’s care still keeps her busy, even 2,000 miles away. She also anticipates that as her dad’s health deteriorates her responsibilities will grow again.
When she first began caring for her dad, Tara says she was unprepared: “It derailed my life as I knew it,” she recalls. But she has learned some valuable lessons in the last five years. She said the most important has been learning to listen to her father’s wishes and adjust to his unique needs.
She knows she’s lucky her father has the resources to live the way he chooses.
“I decided in September 2013 and remain committed to my father living in his personal residence for the rest of his life. He deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity,” she said.
Tobi Elkin is a versatile New York-based writer, editor, interviewer, and advocate with an interest in intergenerational stories, documenting the lives of seniors, and helping them share their stories. Her writing can be found here.