For the last three years, my mom has lived in two memory care group homes. When she arrived in her first one, she was at an awkward stage of her illness; she had moderate dementia and profound psychosis. She’d been in and out of a psychiatric hospital due to violent behavior and attempts to escape captivity. Finding a place that would accept her and cope with her behaviors was a challenge. A small group home was a good solution.
Mom’s behaviors were triggered by groups of people talking and not including her. Paranoia would compel her to think she was being “set up.” She’d try to defend herself with butter knives. Or rocks. Or bags of chips. Whatever was handy. So her placement in a group home with half a dozen residents (and 3 caregivers) was a good way to minimize her triggers. But at the same time, she was still a lot more lucid than most of the other residents, and she was miserable. I cried a lot after my first visits and had to work through it to be able to accept that of all possible solutions, this was the best I could do for her.
In time, Mom adjusted, and even enjoyed a little romance. When the freak Halloween snow storm of 2011 hit, Mom’s home in Montville lost power and she was moved to Ramsey. It was a good move. There were all women at the new place. One resident who clashed with Mom was moved to another home, and she found some buddies at the new place. And Ramsey is a lot more geographically convenient for me.
I have been pretty satisfied with the care Mom’s received, but we are now in the last year of her four year long term care insurance policy. The rent has gone up from $4990/month to $5450. Another bump could be expected in July. And they are starting to charge an additional $250 per quarter for Medicare assessments.
Having established a working relationship with a geriatric care manager (who originally helped place Mom in the first group home), I was offered a deal for Mom at a new place. This facility is the same type of home, but with more residents (the capacity is 40, but there are presently more like 20). Recently converted from a psychiatric facility, they are seeking more residents. It’s run by a nice, caring family and it’s located in Montclair. The rent is $2000 less than the place where Mom’s been living. And that’s before the anticipated 2014 increase.
After checking on the nearby hospital and servicing medical personnel, I submitted the facility to review by Mom’s long term care insurance provider. They gave it the thumbs up.
The only downside is the travel time; it’s 40 minutes from my home. It’s about 20 minutes from my office, so it’s really not bad.
I moved Mom last week. Prepared for the worst, I took time off from work to move her and support her through the move as necessary.
On moving day, I cleaned out Mom’s old room. The only furniture she has is a bookcase. She has a lot of clothing, pictures and tchotchkes. She also has a big fat red Chinese Buddha and a sand cast dog (that looks eerily real). Bob and I packed the stuff in two cars. When it was time to leave, Mom didn’t want to go. There was a woman playing piano and singing songs with the residents. I don’t think her reluctance to leave was attachment to the home so much as not wanting to leave the entertainment.
I drove Mom to the new place. She was pretty quiet. I tried to converse with her, but her language skills have deteriorated. I played music and sang to her. She smiled.
When we got to the new place, residents were sitting outside, enjoying the air. Many of them are cigarette smokers. They greeted all of us warmly.
The staff members came out and hustled the stuff out of the cars and into the home. They told me not to worry. They would wash Mom’s clothes, unpack and set up her room.
Really? I could just go?
Yes, in fact, it was better if we went. Give her a couple of days to settle in.
After reviewing the paperwork and writing some checks, I was done.
Wow. Just go. I kissed Mom good-bye, and off I went.
Days went by. I texted my friends at the new home. How was she doing? Fine. Eating well. No fights. Conversing pleasantly.
Yesterday, I got a call. Mom fell. She wasn’t hurt. She bruised her hip, but she was fine.
Today, a week later, I decided to pop in. I was greeted warmly by the residents on the porch. I entered and Mom was sitting in her chair.
“Tracey!” My mother recognized me and called my name. Over the last six months, she had usually referred to me as her big sister, Sylvia. On one recent visit, she looked at me blankly and hardly reacted.
But today, I was Tracey, her daughter. She was very glad to see me. No complaints. No aches or pains. She chattered and tried to converse. She has seen “Herby” (my father, who’s been gone nearly 10 years). She pointed out a big, heavy set fellow who was the apparent stand in for her absent husband .
Lunch was served. It looked pretty good and smelled delicious. Mom ate well and had a couple of desserts and coffee, too.
Mom’s big red Buddha was in the dining room, blessing all who came to eat. I like that.
Inspecting her room, I appreciated the way they set it up. Pictures and albums nicely stored and arranged, clothing hung neatly in the closet or folded in drawers.
Her dog was in the living room. Quite the conversation piece, many of the residents wanted to feed her or give her water.
I did notice Mom’s hands were shaky. I mentioned this to my geriatric care manager friend. She smiled and said “Guess who just arrived?” Mom’s new doctor.
I had a very good relationship with Mom’s previous geriatrician, so I was a little reticent about the change. But I was glad I was there. I got to meet her new primary care provider. He had a very reassuring manner and great, firm handshake. I gave him Mom’s history and he was appreciative. I felt very blessed with the timing. I like to know who my partners in care are.
My next appointment was pending and I had to get going, but as I kissed Mom good-bye and headed out, I felt really good about this transition. Sometimes, when you work at it, the stars begin to align and the universe brings you what you need.
Today, I am grateful and hopeful that what remains of my mother’s life will be as pleasant, comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Life is short. Except, of course, when it isn’t.
And so I am moved to say a few things:
1) I am profoundly grateful to be able to take care of my mother without killing myself
2) Know that this was possible because my family PLANNED. We could not envision this, but the likelihood that my parents would need some care at the end of their lives was high.
3) It still sucks to go through. It is painful to see someone you love deteriorate.
4) It’s easier to endure when you have a team behind you to help you cope. I am blessed to have a great team.
5) Start building your team sooner than later. Don’t wait for “too late”! If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to visit Light of Gray.
Hoping this won’t happen is NOT a strategy. Get moving!