Friday, July 22, 2011

Isn't that for old people?

Picture my mom as Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, swinging a guitar case down the city streets of Austria, singing "I Have Confidence."

She's not Jessica Tandy in the last scene of Driving Miss Daisy, being spoon fed by Morgan Freeman.

It just doesn't compute when I try to imagine Mom in a nursing home. But her decline due to Alzheimer's is forcing me to think about it. The woman I know is more likely to storm the gates armed with love notes and hand made gifts, showering the elderly with kisses and little hand-squeezes, delivering flowers and singing hymns (to bless others, not because it's the only thing she remembers).

Last night Dad, Olivia and I attended a workshop called "Choosing the Right Care Setting for a Family Member." Doesn't that title just give you the heebie jeebies? NOT a pleasant topic.

During the presentation, silent criticism was my defense mechanism against bursting into tears.

The presenters were not highly acclaimed public speakers. They were both about Mom's age. They seemed like very compassionate women, skilled in their jobs as facilitators of support and assistance, but they were nervous and relied too heavily on their props (microphone with a short cord, power point, remote control for power point, lots of gesturing toward their pile of handouts).

Their attempts at levity were one-liners about the certainty of aging and death. We were not a jovial crowd of attendees and we didn't laugh easily. The women sitting behind us were white-haired and frail; I assume they were there as caretakers of their spouses. My sister and I were the youngest participants by a decade or two. It sucked. I kept thinking about the irony of my two grandmothers, ages 86 and 91, still living alone. But we weren't researching care for them (which would be just as unfortunate, but at least somewhat expected). We were there for our 58 year old mother instead.

The presenters talked about our options:
  • In-Home care (been there, done that: Mom's had a part-time caregiver coming to my parents' house for the last three years or so).
  • Retirement Community (for independent folks; no personal care included).
  • Assisted Living Facility (good for seniors with minor physical limitations).
  • Adult Family Home (I picture a bed and breakfast with supervision).
  • Skilled Nursing Facility (full spectrum of physical and mental assistance).
  • Specialized Care Facility (usually designed for dementia patients; a secure environment, sometimes described specifically as "memory care"). This is most likely our next step.
They also talked about the cost of these services and the difference between Medicare and Medicaid. It was all very introductory but involved so many hypothetical scenarios I got antsy. I was distracted, wondering what my family can afford, how much Medicaid actually covers, and hoping Mom doesn't end up in a ghetto nursing home (I don't know if such a thing even exists in our hometown, but I imagined the worst).

When the presenters asked if anyone had questions, several people voiced frustration with stubborn parents.

"My mom is 88 and she hasn't left her house in 2 years. She refuses to have in-home care and won't go to a Home. She keeps falling. My five siblings and I know we're enabling her by pouring her juice for her and helping her up off the bathroom floor. But what else do we do?"

"My brother refuses to be helped."

"My mother says she doesn't care if she never sees me again, and when I told her that was fine but that I needed a break, she wandered off. I was hoping she'd wander really FAR off so I could call 911. But she didn't. I'm just going crazy with her."
Someone else described (very succinctly) how backwards it feels to be a child making decisions for a parent. Even as adults, she said, it doesn't feel normal. There were lots of murmurs of agreement.

It made me thankful for Mom's sweet spirit. She has NEVER been short-tempered or bitter throughout this whole ordeal. She's not demanding at all (sometimes I wish she was, just so I knew how to help her).

The whole experience last night was surreal. It seems so wrong to picture my mom (vibrant, beautiful, creative, talented) in a convalescent-retirement-senior-assisted-nursing-old-folks'-HOME. The associations that come to mind are sterile, antiseptic-smelling, and white-haired. Slumped shoulders, pushing a walker, slipper-feet shuffling down carpeted hospital hallways. A sea of pastel colors, cheap hotel furniture, sweatshirts with collars. Mom's barely old enough to qualify for a senior's discount at Denny's, and here we are choosing a "Care Setting."

Livi and I held it together until the very end of the workshop. As we were leaving, one of Mom's caregiving friends hugged us and told us how much she loves our mom. Then we lost it. Our stoicism gave way to hot tears and quivering chins.

"Thank you," we choked. "We love her, too."

1 comment:

  1. Oh Em, I can't imagine what you're going through. Let me say this though; after years of working in an Independent/Assisted Living home, my preconceived notions of that sterile, sad environment has been changed. There are some places like that, but there are some BEAUTIFUL places that can really feel like home. I've watched some of my "memory challenged" residents slip away slowly, but many of them still maintain their sweet spirit. I imagine your mom being like that.
    I heard a story of a friend from church whose mother had Alzheimers. When it came time to take her to a home, they chose a beautiful place with a great reputation. She was always a sweet woman who loved helping others. When she arrived at the home, she dove into the task of helping and blessing others, oblivious to the fact of why she was really there. I can see you mom in this role. :)
    Love you and miss you.