Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility

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

Arriving at nursing home

Arriving to her new digs

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!

Laura, M.A. and Tommy enjoying the condo

Laura, M.A. and Tommy enjoying the condo

Favorite chair

Settled in her favorite chair, Papa’s

Don enjoying the condo

Don enjoying the condo

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!

Mom/Mamaw/Ms. B

Mom/Mamaw/Ms. B. Photo credit: David Solganik

Happy living Mom…

This entry was posted in Décor, Healthy Living, Inspiration and tagged , , , , , , by Jamie Balzer. Bookmark the permalink.
Jamie Balzer

About Jamie Balzer

Jamie has worked in the field of interior decorating for over 10 years and has owned B&A Interiors, LLC for almost as long. Partnered with her daughter, Sammi Blake, Jamie has been honored to work in homes and businesses across the country. Knowledge and experience is but part of what she has to offer. As a young girl, Jamie intuitively understood that the placement of things, the color of things, and the arrangement of things evoke certain feelings. Working together with this knowledge, experience and intuition Jamie has answered the call to her life’s purpose- teaching the spiritual truth of what she believes- “Everything begins in the home”. As a branch of B&A Interiors, LLC, Living In Perfect Harmony emerged to teach her philosophy. Jamie believes, “if you live peacefully and beautifully at home, you are well, your family is well and that helps to make the world a better place”. Jamie's most passionate role is as a mother and grandmother. Jamie currently lives and works in the Chicago area but also continues her business in Charlotte, NC as both a decorator and a homespace coach. She is certified in Reiki Therapy which she believes broadens her success as a homespace coach. Jamie is available for private consultations, lectures and seminars.

14 thoughts on “Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility

  1. Well said, I have been busy with a new grandson. This was such an emotional time for me (it is a year Aug. 27).I never knew that walking my mother out of her house ( knowing she wouldn’t return) would be so hard. I had to fight the tears and make it seem like it was just any other shopping trip.I was so torn because I could not keep the promise I had made to our mother. She lived in this house for 50 years and we were moving her out. I don’t know how other families handle it alone. I have 5 siblings and their spouse( plus my hubby) to help me through this difficult time. As we grow older we learn how important family and friends are in our lives. Here I am helping my daughter with her new baby and calling my other daughters, brother and his wife to help me do my duties that I do for mom. They have taken care of everything. So I can enjoy “Henry”. I am Blessed!

    • Mary Ann, life is really something isn’t it? Funny, reading your response brings back the day we moved Mom into Richfield AGAIN. You bore the brunt of it that day having to take her shopping while we readied her new homespace. In fact, you have always been the one to oversee her care. The rest of us sibs are so grateful. Readers out there, if you are reading these comments- think about those that are in health care facilities. I ended my post with the tip that is the most important- you can and should be the best “decoration” in your loved one’s new homespace. Please visit often! It will brighten their space immeasurably!
      Mary Ann, you are so right. Family and friends are everything.
      Let’s all remember this..Oh, and welcome to the world Henry!!!!!

  2. I love that you included the journal – so important for those with memory deficits!! It helps Mamaw not feel alone (if she needs a reminder), and also gives visitors something to talk about. Labeled photos of extended family members are great too. Finally, signs/reminders (labeled drawers, “put dirty clothes here,” etc) throughout the space can help maintain independence which is always empowering.

    • Hi Jackie,
      Oh that I wish I could take credit for the journal! That was actually Aunt M.A.’s idea and it has been wonderful. (Or wait a minute, it might have been your idea since you are a speech pathologist?!?) I hate being so far away from Mamaw and so every time I call her I say, “Mom, get out your journal and read to me the last page”. It helps me to know who has been by to see her and also, it gives us something to talk about on the phone regardless of her memory (or lack thereof). I hope other readers out there see your comments and use them if ever in this situation. Thanks for the tips! Love to you as always!!!

  3. Today is Mom’s one year anniversary in her “condo” at Richfield. It has worked out better than we expected for her and for us — her children. Of course we wish her health and memory were better so she could have remained in her lovely home of 50 years with the beautiful yard and pool, but she needs full elderly health care services that Richfield provides. The past year has helped me witness, understand and appreciate care facilties. Visiting her is easy and pleasurable. We can drop in anytime, even with my family’s 90 lb dog Dutch who enjoys seeing Mommaw in her condo. The staff are always welcoming, and they have dog treats at the front desk! We can take Mom out and bring her back anytime 24/7. Oh yes, moving Mom to a care facility was one of the hardest decisions we 6 siblings have faced, but we carefully thought, researched, discussed, and even debated it and then made the decision together. We love Mom. We appreciate Richfield. Great big thanks to sib MA and Jim for being Mom’s care manager and to sib Craig and Becky for being the backup manager. Thank you Jamie for the special article and pictures. Happy Anniversary.

    • Wow, you remind me of something that I learn over and over again. Until you experience something yourself, you really don’t grasp the full range of emotions involved. I remember when Daddy passed away. I told friends that I was now in a club that I wished I wasn’t a member of. The club was “Having a parent that has passed away”. Becoming part of the club taught me things I could only know once I became part of the club. Bittersweet education for sure. I have since then become part of many other clubs (such as this new one with Mom) that I wish I had no experience in but, I can certainly say that in becoming “a member” of each one I become more grounded, more peaceful and yes, even blissful in my approach to life. To life!!!

  4. Craig and I took credit for introducing your parents and seeing them through their wedding where I was honored to be matron of honor. Craig & Don were on the same ship in 1946, and I met both on the same night in New York. Craig and I fell in love instantly and were married 9 days later and stayed together for 47 years when he too died of leukemia. Both naval officers were recalled in 1950 for the Korean conflict, and Don’s first ship was in the Norfolk area where we lived. Betavia & Leland were our next door neighbors, so Bobby & I had become fast friends. While the men were at sea, she drove with me to Oak Alley en route to my mother’s in Huntsville. We visited Cousin Josephine and planned her wedding to Don in the gorgeous bedroom upstairs in Oak Alley. At that time Don had not officially proposed, but we knew he would. We had chosen red and green velvet for bridesmaids, but had to change that for a cooler attire when the wedding was scheduled the next fall. We also take credit for the name Craig bears and I tried to claim the Ann in Mary Ann was for me. Bee being #1 became my God child. The ironic thing in our friendship was I desperately wanted a baby to no avail. Bobby said early on that she hoped she wouldn’t be barren as I was. No doubt God heard her plea and granted them their wonderful family. Mine came later via adoption of two welcomed sons. #1 son, wife, and 13 yr old daughter have moved in with me and are spoiling me terribly. How lucky can one be. I hurt for Bobby in her condition and would not recognize her from the photo, but am delighted she is happy and thriving in her new home. No doubt you did the right thing.

    • Oh goodness, I am so moved by your comments. I called Bee yesterday after I read this and told her how touched I was that you even read my blog. It took me to today to be able to respond without crying through the whole reply. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving all of us brothers and sisters ( and cousins, children, etc.) a glimpse into our parents’ past that I feel sure no one knew to the extent you write of. What a treasure to know details like the original color of bridesmaid’s dresses and memories of Aunt Betavia and Uncle Leland. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to give us this.
      As for your memories of Oak Alley, I visited it once myself in the late 1980′s and remembered that my parents honeymooned there. It is odd to now see Oak Alley on shows like “Wheel of Fortune” and know the history of this family plantation.
      I hope you keep reading my blog. It is meant to be a platform for me to express to others the absolute importance of “HOME” and how we live in it. Articles will be full of family anecdotes, memories and experiences that I believe everyone, family or not, can identify with. Afterall, we are all most of us just ordinary people that hopefully choose to live extraordinary lives. (Just like in today’s post, cousin Beth is quoted.)
      Have a blissful day and smile broadly for knowing the sheer joy you have brought to me and others in what you wrote to us. You stand as a true testimony to love, married 47 years to someone you knew only 9 days!!!!
      Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

    • Such a lovely comment by you, Ann Craig. I am Betavia’s youngest daughter, Shell. My mother spoke so fondly of you all my life. I remember you from her stories and the slides we have of your times together. I hope that you are well and happy. You were a good friend to her all her life.
      Thanks, Jamie, for this blog…it has allowed us to become more connected with each other.

      • Thanks Shell. I believe that we are all in need of more connection with each other. Be it family, friend or whatever- we need to take the time to truly understand each other. All of us (or most of us) claim to be so busy, busy, busy that we don’t have time to take the time to connect. How truly sad. I for one want to be a domino in the shift and change. Starting with me in my part of the world, I want to reach out and say, “Hey, time to get back to basics and understand what life is all about”. I hope others follow. The world will begin to be a better place, one person at a time…

  5. Jamie,
    I wanted to let you know that Mrs. Balzer and your family have been a blessing to me. Working with your mother taught me very valuble things about life and left an impression on me, It’s sad to me that these things have to happen to people, especially your mother , because she has some much to offer and teach people! I know that your mother is being taken very well care of, and recieves very much love, something some people are not fortunate enough to have. Every time I pass the old house I remember the times and experiences we had there and I would not trade that time in my life for anything, Thank you for the wonderful comment and for the opportunity to work with your mother and family!

    Ercilia Ward

    • Ercilia, thank you so much for your kind words. We Balzer clan are forever indebted to the wonderful care you took of our mother while you lived with her. Yes, she is in a wonderful place now at Richfield. For that we all are blessed. Watching a parent with Alzheimer’s is a very difficult thing to do and you were a part of helping make things smoother for her. Keep reading…

  6. Thank you, Aunt Jamie, for this post. Although it has been over a year since Mawmaw moved, I am obviously still processing everything, which is why I am only just now bringing myself to read this! You see, her house was a consistent “home” for me all through my life. And when I refer to her house, it goes without saying that I’m including her in the mental picture of the house, since I remember extremely few occasions when she wasn’t there… She really was ALWAYS there! Anyway, I can sit here and count at least 17 physical spaces I have lived in over the last 35 years, and through all of that, Mawmaw and Papa’s home was the constant! I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn to that house. I lived there as a child when my family was between houses, and again as a teenager when we were building a house. I spent almost everyday of childhood summers swimming in the pool there, had numerous birthday parties there, and a post-rehearsal party there the night before I was married. It came full circle when my husband and I stayed there for a couple of months with our infant son when we moved back to Roanoke. For 6 years I spent many summer days there with my own children, and Mawmaw was there nearly every minute of every occasion! It has been so hard to lose the sense of home that Mawmaw, the house, and the pool gave all of us!

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