Mom’s Place

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My mother is 97 and has made a series of moves during the past few years, as her needs have changed.  She never wanted to move in with her children, and years ago my father moved them to a community that has different care options, so they would always have a good place to be.  Now, at 97, we are experiencing what this looks and feels like.

My mom has aged well.  I like to say she still has about 87% of her marbles.  She gets frustrated when she can’t think of the words she wants, but still has a vocabulary better than most of us.  She can barely swallow and sits in a wheelchair and speaks very softly and doesn’t hear well, but you can have a good time and fun conversation with her.  She has an attitude of gratitude, and it wasn’t always that way, so I am so very grateful to be able to say that.  She asks after and cares about others and loves to hear their news.  She voted in the last election and cares about the world.

But if you have known people closely while they aged, you probably know that different days can be very different.  When my mom has a urinary tract infection, for example, she can seem well physically but go bat-shit crazy paranoid.  This is painful but thank goodness resolves with antibiotics getting rid of the infection. During hospitalizations she becomes totally disoriented, but this resolves as she gets home and into a routine again.

All of this is to set the stage for understanding where she lives now- on the third floor of a health center.  Now, some of you also know that the higher the floor, the less capable the ‘inmates’ (as my mother irreverently calls herself and companions.)  The top floor is usually the locked down, secure “memory-care” unit.  My mom’s third floor is not that, but you have to go behind the nurse’s station to push the elevator button.  That says a lot.  More of her “neighbors” are confused than not.

In the lounge, elderly men and women are in wheelchairs doing the shuffle scoot to get around slowly, or are in reclining wheelchairs and totally dependent.  A very few are ambulatory.  Some walk and talk to themselves but most seem calm and quiet or sociable.

But yesterday when I visited, I was accosted- first by a blue-haired lady, nicely dressed, who called out to me, “Oh, can you help me?  Can you help me find my family?  Howles- H-O-W-L-E-S.  Can you find them for me?”  I gently point to the (now empty) nurse’s station and tell her that they will be the best people to help her- they have telephones and will be back soon to help.  She thanks me and seems calm, or at least mollified for the moment.

As I take a few steps and turn a man in a wheelchair (who is usually silent) blurts out to me, “Help, help me. “  “You have to help me,” he says.  Then, “My wife is sitting in the back seat.”  It tears me up- does he think he is driving a car, with his wife in the back?  I take his hand and say, “This is a safe place.”  I point to helpers getting pills and drinks ready and say, “These people are here to help you, it will be all right.”

I proceed to have a nice visit with my mom, but I am left disconcerted and wondering.  Does my mom ever feel left alone?  Already, she is able to remember how to use her phone and call us sometimes and other times she says she was unable to “get it to work.”  What happens when she is unable to remember that we will be visiting in a day or two?  Will she feel forgotten, lost and afraid?  Will she be easily calmed?

Everyone’s life journey is unique.  I hope she skips the “Help me and get me out of here” panic.

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11 thoughts on “Mom’s Place

  1. Oh, I feel sad for those people. I can’t imagine how heart-breaking it is to see and hear them. My mom is 85. We lost my dad 2 years ago and she seems to be thriving, living on her own. She has friends in her apartment building. My eldest sister is a 5 minute drive away. My other siblings have a 1-3 hour drive to see her. It takes me a day in an airplane to get there. I feel a little guilty about that and try to call her often.

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  2. Calling is good! I’m the one that lives close, but I know that when I am not visiting, my brothers are probably calling my mom. that keeps her grounded, too.
    Hope your mom stays well for a long, long time! Being in a small apartment with friends and family nearby is just about the best it can be, i think.

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  3. Mine are not very elderly, but are better described as far too old when they were really still young.

    My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was– OMG– MY AGE. I was a senior in high school, and he had been symptomatic since I was in sixth or seventh grade. It was a long, extremely ugly path of deterioration. Brain disorders are rarely pretty.

    My mom, in contrast, just turned seventy in actual age, but she’s closer to ninety in health. It’s been a bad scene for about a decade now.

    My post from a few days ago only briefly alluded to the ways I’ve coped, but it’s not an exaggeration to say I have spent my entire adulthood walking this path.

    UTIs are some kind of adventure, aren’t they? My funniest not-at-all funny moment involved mom hallucinating there was a mouse crawling on the clock wire of her hospital room, and he was gnawing on it, about to set fire to the whole building.

    I get it.

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      1. I’m glad. Having been doing this for decades now, I know it can be rare to find anyone who knows what long-term eldercare entails.

        The staff at my dad’s place was a God-send.

        Long story short, I look remarkably like his cousin. I’ve been mistaken for her at family gatherings, which is a little off-putting since she IS 40 years older than I am! However, the last 7 or 8 years of his life, he went in and out of being able to recognize me as ME. It got pretty upsetting for him, and more often than not during his last three, if he saw me, he ended up in a panic, crying hysterically because he knew something was just not right. Most of those times, he ended up having to be sedated. I was the only one he didn’t know. That was hard– especially as the person responsible for so much! So, I’d stop in and check on him at dinner, see him from afar, consult staff, and check his room while he was eating. It was hard to NOT visit while visiting, but rationally, it was the right choice. They knew what was up and were so gracious in helping with everything!

        He knew me for three months straight the year before he died. I considered it my birthday present since that month was one of the three!

        Hang in there.

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  4. I literally have tears in my eyes as I type this. I am inspired by the fact that you took the time to stop and speak kindly and compassionately to people who were fearful and felt alone. Thank you for what I’m sure was a difficult post to write. It is heartfelt and true.

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  5. I understand! My mom passed in 2015 and my dad passed in 2005! Mom was living by herself, then with one of my sisters and finally had to move in to an Assisted Living place. She went through all the things you mentioned in your post. Since I live an hour away, I went down some Friday nights and spent the night with her. I would actually lay right next to her while we watched t.v. together then when she went to sleep I would get up and move to my air bed down on the floor! She loved having me there with her. She wanted me to do that more often but I just couldn’t.Whenever she got hospitalized, I would stay over night at the hospital. I want to make sure he needs wer If you can…ask her if she would like for you to stay with her a night. See what she says! Hold her as much as possible and tell her you love her. Once she is no longer here physically, you will miss all that!

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  6. My husband and I have cared for his grandmother who lived to be 99, his mother who had Alzheimers, and now my mother who is 86 and is a double amputee. The struggles for all three have been very different, but they made their lives very challenging. It is heartbreaking to see the elderly struggle so with their health, their emotions, and their minds. I must rely on others to help with mom who lives two hours away and refuses to move closer to me. It gives me pangs of guilt that I cannot spend more time with her. We all do the best that we can to support our elderly loved ones on their journeys of life.

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  7. I am just entering this stage of life with my parents. They are in their mid 70’s and beginning to have health issues that impact quality of life. Sadly they are 1300 miles away from me and I ache to be closer. I’m glad your mom has made it to her 90s (and almost 100). They’ll always be our parents and we want the best for them. Hugs to you!!

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  8. We had a similar experience visiting my husband’s oldest sister who has Alzheimer’s. It can be heart-wrenching thing to see the needs and not be able to meet them. I’m glad you are able to still have your mom’s presence. I’ve been missing mine.

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