Many years ago while living in Northern VA, I was at a dinner party with friends. A discussion started about the future need for more nursing homes as the baby boomers aged. I remember one friend, Leah telling my friend Sue and me that she and her husband were considering investing in this soon to be big business industry. I could not fathom the future need of this anywhere near the level they felt it would become. (But of course, I was the one in college who thought computer courses were a waste of time, too.)
Leah and her husband were right. The world of caring for the elderly has radically changed. It is extremely difficult to not only find a good quality facility but, the wait list is often ridiculously long to secure a spot.
I learned this first hand last summer. My mother has Alzheimer’s. For several years we were fortunate to keep her at home. She went from daytime care to full round the clock care (thank you Ercilia) until it just wasn’t enough. Overnight we were faced with the need for a facility to move her to. We got lucky- there was an opening in the facility we had previously decided that should the need arise, was our number one choice.
So, one year ago this month my siblings and I did what I once considered the unimaginable. We moved our mother into an Alzheimer’s Facility. I count it as one of the most horrific decisions I have ever had to take part in making.
It turned out to be the best thing for her.
What a blessing for all of us.
She is the happiest, healthiest and safest I have seen her in a long time. Of course, she lives in the moment. I meant literally in the moment. If you visit her, you can walk out the door to her room, walk back in and she will greet you as if for the first time.
My David calls it living life like in the movie “Ground Hog Day”. Over and over, it is the same thing. But, she is happy.
I believe she is happy because of what my siblings, spouses (what we fondly call our out-laws) and I did to create comfy cozy space for her.
Replicate what they know
We had a plan. The day we moved her into her facility, my sister Mary Ann took her shopping. The rest of us immediately converged on the house (having already established a “D Day plan of attack”) and began collecting the things from her house we knew she loved and would be familiar with in new surroundings. My brother, Tommy brought a trailer and so the guys started filling it with the large items like her bed. We even put in my Dad’s dresser- not hers as she loved looking at his ever since his passing. We carefully and consciously thought through every single item we put on the trailer. We wanted our mother to walk into her room and feel like she was home.
We had a time limit to getting all this done as we were having a luncheon at the facility with our mother once we got there. We worked as if we were on a mission, each person pitching in. Oh, and just so you know- we had not told her she was moving to a facility. After counsel with her doctor and the staff at Richfield we decided it was best not to give her the head’s up. She wouldn’t remember anyway. So, when Mary Ann brought Mom to the center for lunch, it was at the lunch table that we told her this was her new home.
Wow, while writing this my eyes are filling with tears and I suddenly have a sick feeling in my stomach. Thinking back to it brings on a flood of emotion. I guess it always will.
You see, after our father passed away many years ago, Mom made us promise never to put her in a nursing home. We were going back on our promise. No child should ever have to experience this.
But, on with the story…
While we siblings were breaking the news to Mom, the out-laws were putting the final touches on her room. What a beautiful job Laura and Becky did! Pictures were hung, accessories were lovingly placed on her nightstand and desk, her rug was arranged on the floor and lamps were lit to give a welcoming presence.
Comfort was created.
She loved it!
A New Home
Nursing Homes are not what they used to be. My grandmother was in one back in the early 70’s for a brief time and I remember it was like a hospital room. Not anymore. The medical world has begun paying attention to the importance of the aesthetics of the environment. Patient rooms and suites are more personal and user friendly. Afterall, many patients live in these spaces for years and years.
Richfield, the facility our Mom lives in is very much this way. When we moved her in, the staff gave us total privacy to make Mom’s room what we wanted it to be. My brother, Don called it her condo and so that’s what we call it still. She feels good in this new homespace and it shows! She has a new home!
Helpful hints to create comfort
Here are my tips for any of you that find yourselves where my family was a year ago:
- Think through the space you are moving your loved one to just as carefully as you have thought through your own personal homespace. It will mean a world of difference to how they live in their space if it is comfy cozy.
- Make your loved one’s space resemble what they are used to as much as possible.
- Fill their space with family photos.
- Fill their space with mementos.
- Allow for good lighting by decorating with table lamps, etc.
- Bring in fresh flowers and plants often.
- Pay attention to smell as this is often a problem with the elderly. Use natural room deodorizers such as Fresh Wave.
- Add a wreath or some type of welcoming décor to the door that is the entrance to their homespace.
- Take the time to decorate their space for the different holidays. (More on this later.)
- Have a journal available for visitors to write in. This gives you a record of who she/he has seen and also gives you things to talk about when you visit.
- Visit often. You being there is the best “decoration” she/he will enjoy.
Please feel free to add comments to this post if any of you have great tips as well.
Oh, and a very personal shout-out to the dear friends that visit my mother so often. Chris, Ellen and Bill, Clara, Ercilia and the rest of you– you make the world brighter for my Mom. I am forever grateful! And, Richfield you and your staff rock!
Happy living Mom…