Thoughts about elder care

I haven’t written about my mother in a while.  My silence falls into the category of “no news is good news.”  Last year at this time, I seriously doubted whether she’d live into the new year.  This year, although very frail, she’s better than I ever imagined she could be.  Her improved health is a result of three different things:  (1) getting necessary surgery in a timely fashion, something that might not have happened had she been living in a socialized medicine world; (2) getting the right medicines, which happened because one of her doctors had the courage to challenge her addiction to harmful medicines; and (3) moving permanently into a good skilled nursing facility (SNF).

As to that last, both my mother and I were very lucky.  Or maybe it wasn’t luck at all.  My mom had the proper managed care environment available because, six years ago, she recognized that she couldn’t live alone any more.  Although she was still completely mentally competent (as she is today), and was able to drive, a combination of heart and musculo-skeletal problems meant that she just couldn’t manage on her own in a two-story house — and one, moreover, that was in a city notorious for difficult parking.  She shopped around very carefully, and found a retirement home near me (and her grandchildren), which had the added attraction of its own SNF.

From the day she moved into the retirement home, my mom complained.  I’ve blogged about this fact before, because I found her unceasing complaints almost intolerable.  From cliquish residents to unpalatable food to unfeeling administrators, there was always something — some failure, some insult, some battle.  Even though I knew that she was fighting back in the only way she knew how against the diminution of her life, I just kept wanting to shake her and say “Force yourself to be happy, because this is IT.  It’s not going to get any better.”

Last year, things reached their nadir for Mom, physically and emotionally.  And this is where I get to the part about her good choice in retirement homes bringing luck.  Almost exactly a year ago, Mom got moved into the home’s SNF.  It looked as if it was going to be a temporary move but, as I blogged this past spring, it ended up becoming a permanent one.

One of the things that makes this facility special in my mind is how loving the care is.  It’s not perfect care, and there are people who are less good than others, but it constantly surprises me to see how the employees who work with my mom bring compassion, humor, and decency to dealing with the old people in their care.  Some of these people are profoundly damaged by strokes, dementia, and other disease and aging processes, but I’ve never seen the caregivers treat them with anything but kindness.

Sometimes, when the residents are very difficult, the staff’s kindness can be brusque, but the focus is still on treating the residents well.  In this regard, my mom’s SNF is the antithesis of those horror stories you hear about nursing home residents who are abused in facilities that are basically nothing more than Medicare scams.  The difference may be that mom’s nursing home is part of a Presbyterian Homes & Services network.  I’m mad at the Presbyterian church because of its approach towards Israel, but I cannot fault its care of the aged.

Of course, communal living isn’t for everyone.  My Mom has to share a bathroom, which is a severe trial for one as fastidious as she is.  This has been especially true lately, since her former bathroom partner died, and the current one is senile enough to play with her feces.  Aging is cruel.  It’s a times like this, I know my Mom wishes she could have stayed in her house with someone to look after her.  She realizes, though, that with a two-story house, even the best and most loving caregiver would not have been able to get her out and about much.  Her world would have shrunk to a telephone and a television.

As I said, aging can be cruel.  I am therefore very thankful for those people who give so generously of themselves to care for the elderly.  The mere fact that they get paid for their work (and it’s certainly not the kind of pay that will make them rich), doesn’t explain the routine acts of kindness I so routinely witness.

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  • yara

    re:I’m mad at the Presbyterian church because of its approach towards Israel, but I cannot fault its care of the aged.

    You obviously have more direct exposure to the theological influence at the place, but based on a quick run through the NCPHS web site, there doesn’t seem to be any more connection with any of the Presbyterian denominations than  (for a ridiculous example) your web site does.

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  • monique

    My mom has Parkinson’s Disease which made it hard for her to move around and do simple tasks such as taking a bath or going to the comfort room. Aside from that, she also has hypertension and arthritis. Since all of us are also very busy working, I always wondered if bringing her to a home would be better. But it’s very difficult for me to do that. I don’t have the heart to do it. Having someone to look after her 24 hours a day would be the best solution for us. I wouldn’t worry about her food, people surrounding her and the care she’ll get. The best part of it is that she’ll feel loved and taken care of, and not neglected by us. I agree, aging can be cruel, but as children, we can only wish to give our aging parents the best care they deserve. Thanks for this.