Alzheimer's and Dementia/ Transitioning To a Retirement Community
The Big Move
When a parent is declining, no longer able to live alone safely, changes must be made. Dementia affects people differently, but it is usually a gradual process. Areas of life usually affected due to Alzheimer's Disease or Dementia include money management, properly taking medications, cooking meals, driving safely, and social interactions. Spouses can lean on their partners for assistance, but those who live alone must seek other help. Today's American culture offers a wide array of facilities which provide shelter and assistance for the elderly population with memory issues.
My husband and I have faced the daunting task of relocating my Mom into one of these special communities, a Retirement Village. She is fed an appealing and healthy meal three times each day, her meds are monitored, her apartment cleaned and her laundry done.
The results have been positive. Generally, she is much more relaxed. She appears healthier from the good nutrition provided in her meals. The confusion of day to day responsibilities has subsided. Her main responsibility is taking care of herself with a few minor daily tasks which include making her bed and straightening her apartment as needed. She may also wash an occasional glass or spoon in her kitchenette.
This level of activity is what she can handle now. Choosing an outfit from her closet for church can be a lengthy process or transferring the contents of her purse to another can cause a certain level of stress. Somehow she manages to get herself together if given enough time. Her apartment is simple and comfortable, easy to navigate, perfect for this season of her life.
Life In a Retirement Community is very different than living alone. So many responsibilities have been removed or made simple. Activities are available and people in similar circumstances are nearby.
Life immediately became more social. Instead of isolating from those around her, Mom made a few friends and joined some of the activities offered to her. She loves the on-site beauty shop. She actually played Canasta last week with some other ladies and talks about joining the Bridge group this week.
Meals in the facility are planned and displayed on a board each day. In addition, the table seating is situated so that the individuals sit with the same people each meal. This builds relationship. Mom's favorite people are her table mates. Though they can sit anywhere, they stick together. There are two men and two ladies who break bread together on a regular basis. I'm finding out that my Mom is a flirt. At this stage in life, I really don't care. The socializing is good for her and she doesn't miss a meal! Her appetite is down, so anything which motivates her to show up for meals has to be positive.
Changes in Functioning
Daily life can be challenging with Alzheimer's and Dementia. Organization is so important. Simplifying choices is essential as the disease progresses. Throwing clothes in a dresser or a closet without some thought can be very frustrating for those with memory challenges. Grouping pants and blouses together, organizing dresser drawers and toiletries will lessen daily frustrations that can naturally occur with these elderly individuals. Eliminating unnecessary items is extremely helpful.
Even with a simplified life, there are some marked changes in Mom's ability to "do" life. There are two closets in her bedroom. One has slacks and tops, the other has matching pantsuits and shoes and purses. These closets are stocked with clothes for this season of cooler weather. In a large closet in her living room, there are extra towels,sheets and blankets, summer clothes, and winter coats, sweaters and jackets she can choose from. Choosing appropriate clothing from the proper closet is confusing for her. Summer clothes have emerged from the depths of storage more than a few times. As I place them back into the warmer weather storage closet, she somehow finds her way into that closet time and time again. She asked me where her warm clothes were the other day and I showed her the closet in her room where they were kept. In her head, they were still at the old apartment awaiting their car ride to her new residence.
One of my mother's favorite afternoon treats is a Diet Coke in a cold can. Of course a straw is necessary. We keep a box of straws in her only drawer in the kitchenette. Not once has she remembered on her own that those straws are in the drawer.
Preparing for church this morning, she chose a favorite purple pantsuit. Proudly holding it up, she declared that she would wear it tomorrow morning. She arrived at the front door this morning in a pair of black slacks and cute top with a jacket sweater that I don't remember ever seeing. My feeling is that she did not remember her wardrobe planning from last night. Overnight memories seem to fade.
There are lots of little stories that I could share. Some would make you smile and even chuckle. Some would bring a tear to your eye. This journey is full of surprises from day to day. I am learning to roll with the punches.
Medical Services in a Retirement Community
Retirement Communities often have medical staff on site. This office provides medical personnel to administer medications, assist patients with daily care, provide laundry service, and even walk individuals to the dining room. Assistance is available around the clock and seven days a week. These type of services are provided for by the medical office and is a separate fee from the resident facility.
We contracted this medical team immediately for medication administration and laundry services. In addition, we contracted to have Mom walked to meals each day as the full dining room was a little overwhelming. They seated her each time. As time progressed, we added services as needed.
Love and Support
Having a family member that makes decisions and coordinates others to help is essential. Knowing where the elder is in the process of decline helps all of those who assist with daily needs and activities. Including friends and family to provide assistance and spend time with the elderly individual is the best protection against burnout. Caregivers need to share the load of responsibility as they can, taking care of themselves in the process of giving.
Many people have been a tremendous support during this season of decline and transition. The staff at the retirement village are super and have made Mom feel at home. Her church small group friends have surrounded her and offered to be of whatever help they can be. They have loved on her and shown their care and concern in numerous ways.
My Mother-in-Love, a close friend of my Mom, has been processing these life changes herself and grieving the loss of her "running" buddy. They used to go everywhere together. Mom K has provided transportation and companionship for my Mother. She continues to support me as I continue this role as primary caretaker. This type of support is priceless to a caregiver.
As the main caretaker, I have assumed several new roles with my Mother which include financial responsibilities, dispensing medications to containers for the special care staff to oversee, shopping for necessary items for daily life, managing medical appointments and follow-ups, and corresponding with family members regarding her progress. I can't forget my most important role as emotional support, confidante, and friend. These are vital elements in such a time of transition. I can say things to her that others can't. She in turn can ask any question or discuss anything she cares to with me. I am also in the process of closing down her residence of eight plus years and sorting through years of family history and momentos. It is a daunting task, but not unmanageable.
My favorite motto is, "This too shall pass." When times get difficult, it is only for a little while and then we move on to the next adventure of life.