The last decade of Mom and Dad’s lives involved a lot of changes. Change is always hard, but it’s especially hard when dementia is gradually taking control of your life. To add to the indignities, your loved ones begin making decisions that take more control out of your hands, even to the point of deciding where you will live.
Mom and Dad were still living in their own home when I began to notice subtle changes that required intervention. For several years, I made an occasional check to see that things were running smoothly. But as they both slid further into Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, I took a more active role, organizing their meds, checking on their bills, accompanying them on doctor’s visits. And then things really got complicated.
My husband was transferred to Florida, and I couldn’t leave Mom and Dad in Texas alone. I gave them a choice of moving with us, moving in with my brother, or moving into assisted living. There was resistance, arguments and tears, but they finally decided on Florida. Life was stormy for a while, but we all eventually accepted the reality of the situation and settled into a comfortable routine.
As their diseases and their care needs progressed, the routine became less comfortable for me. After six years, I was dressing and bathing Mom and helping her feed herself. Dad was still relatively independent, but he was fading fast. My health began to fail, and I rapidly approached burnout, so I reached out to my brother for help.
Jim lives in Conway, Arkansas, and although he visited with Mom and Dad a few times a year, he had never been their primary caregiver. He agreed it was his turn, but because of his frequent in-home care of a physically challenged grandson, we opted for assisted living, and the search began.
For several months we discussed options and struggled with decisions. We wanted a place that offered excellent care with a home-like atmosphere, but there were financial considerations, too. I helped as much as I could, but I left the final decision to Jim. In the end, I think it was the staff at Southridge Village that won him over. Several visits to the facility and meetings with the owners and managers convinced him that they really cared about their residents and offered the best care available.
Mom and Dad were oblivious to the chaos going on around them. Knowing they wouldn’t understand or remember if I explained, I avoided the subject of what was going on unless they asked, and they didn’t ask. As I sorted through drawers and closets, making piles to be thrown away, donated or packed, they watched and smiled. Occasionally Mom commented about how busy I was, but mostly they dozed on the couch or watched TV. The night before Jim and his son Sean arrived, I broke the news that they were moving into an apartment near Jim. They listened and nodded, and when I asked a few minutes later if they had questions, they asked “About what?”
Thursday morning Jim and Sean arrived with a truck and trailer, and we loaded it with the furniture for their new home. Sean took the loaded truck and hit the road, Jim settled down for an overnight visit, and Mom and Dad sat on the couch and smiled. There were fewer smiles when I woke them Friday morning. Dad scowled because he didn’t want to get up, and Mom pouted because she didn’t want to go anywhere without me. But scowls and pouts were soon forgotten in the routine of getting dressed and eating breakfast. An hour or so later, with their overnight bags in their car, I hugged and kissed them and helped them with their seatbelts. As Jim got into the driver’s seat, Mom teared up.
“Aren’t you coming with us.”
Dad didn’t seem to notice. I shed a few tears myself as I watched the car pull out of sight. I felt the relief of letting go of the caregiver reins, but I also felt the panic of wondering if I had told Jim everything he needed to know.
My transition was emotionally wrenching but otherwise peaceful. Jim’s transition was anything but peaceful. On the trip he dealt with Mom’s bathroom needs for the first time, and when they stopped for the night, Mom and Dad were so restless that he gave up in the wee hours and got back on the road.
Move-in wasn’t until Monday, so he had house guests for a couple of days. During that time he dealt with incontinence, confusion, agitation, sundowning and unfamiliar medication routines. He also dealt with Dad’s resistance. Dad and I had worked through that phase of our relationship, and he was mostly compliant with me, but under the new circumstances, the need for male dominance reared its ugly head.
There were bright spots, though. Sean and his brother unloaded the trailer and set up the apartment at Southridge. They were impressed with the facility which gave Jim and me confidence that we had made the right choice.
Monday was the brightest spot of all. Jim got Mom and Dad up and dressed, suggested they go out for lunch, and took them to their new home. Southridge has a beautiful dining room and an excellent chef, and they enjoyed a nice meal. The courteous and welcoming staff made Mom and Dad feel at home right away. After lunch, when Jim escorted them to their new apartment, Dad looked around at familiar furniture and pictures.
“Is this our place?” he said, and that was that.
Jim’s confidence in the staff grew when he received a call from the nurse after the facility doctor made his weekly visit. She reported on his recommendations and made suggestions about how to make Mom and Dad’s home safer and more comfortable. As Jim dropped in for visits, he observed Mom and Dad visiting happily with other residents. He saw Mom hug the nurse when she brought her medications, and he saw her respond positively when the night supervisor came to help her get ready for bed.
Dad was a little slower to adapt. He was resistant and didn’t want the staff to take care of Mom. He barred the door with his cane so the night aid couldn’t do her regular bed checks, and he seemed to view their assistance as interference. Although Jim was understandably upset at Dad’s actions, he was encouraged by the staff’s reactions. They reported the incidents but asked nothing from Jim except his positive reinforcement. They reassured him that it would just take a little time to build Dad’s trust.
Dad eventually settled in, and Jim commented in one of his e-mails that “things have gone smoothly here, but that is in a big way due to the good staff.” I, too, believe the staff made all the difference. They not only took care of the Mom and Dad’s physical needs, but they also became emotionally involved with them. When Dad died 5 months later, several staff members cried and were upset that they couldn’t attend his funeral in Dallas. And when Mom died a year later, we received a beautiful card signed by many staff members saying what a special lady she was.
Yes, changes are hard, and placing a loved one in a residential care facility is one of the hardest. But finding a facility with a caring, professional staff can make all the difference.
Copyright © 2013
by Linda Brendle
- Article by Linda Brendle exclusively for Assisted Living Directory