A Tale of Two Transitions: My Divergent Stories about Helping Aging Parents Move to Assisted Living
A few years ago, my widowed mother-in-law began having trouble managing at home. We lived about an hour away and had been called three times when she fell or had a medical crisis and was taken to the emergency room. We also saw that she was limiting her movements in the home to one room and no longer cooking. My husband helped her with bill paying and visited regularly, but it was apparent it was time for a change. We felt the best option, especially as she seemed to be more lonely and isolated, was to find a good Assisted Living Facility closer to us (she refused to move in with us and we were busting at the seams with two teenagers at home anyway).
We asked around among some friends and went on a few tours of local facilities. We fell in love with a beautiful facility about 10 minutes from our home and thought it would be perfect for her. My husband went over to talk to her about what we thought would be best. Well, to put it mildly, the conversation did not go well. She felt blind-sided and had a lot of reasons why a move was “impossible”. My husband listened to her and decided to regroup and perhaps approach this slowly over time, i.e. “work on her”. I think a lot of her initial reluctance was fear and feeling overwhelmed with such a big change. We did eventually convince her and took her for a visit to the assisted living facility. She was very quiet and later told us she felt it was “awfully fancy”. We thought it was gorgeous and wanted to move in ourselves! We knew we’d have to help contribute some money to her monthly costs, but figured with the time we were spending running back and forth to her home, it would be worth it.
We arranged movers, helped go through her things (completely exhausting both her and us with the emotional draining process) and set up the move. The day of the move was not so great. She was upset; we were busy trying to arrange everything and we felt less than welcomed at the facility. They had a nice flower arrangement for her, and helped with logistics but things were fairly disorganized. Unfortunately, we arrived just after lunch (but without having had any ourselves) so we had to run out and get something for her as she missed the facility’s lunch time. Eventually, she began to settle in but remained reluctant to participate in the many activities offered. She began to need more assistance, and her fees went up quite a bit to get her the extra help. We realized our idea that we’d be saving so much time and stress were slightly off the mark, as we were at the assisted living facility or in touch with them almost every day.
She began having more medical issues and had a number of hospitalizations. At one hospitalization, we spoke to the facility staff and they felt her needs were beyond what they could handle, unless she got additional private-pay caregivers for many hours. She and we could not afford this. It was only later that we even began finding out about any options for financial assistance, some of which would have helped with better planning initially. The decision was made for her to move to a nursing home. Again, we were in the dark about which places were good but we looked up some information on the internet and picked a place. It did turn out to be a good place with good staff, but we were feeling very unsettled and anxious trying to make all these decisions. She never really recovered from her recent health issues and we lost her within a few months. I think we did all we could with what we knew and we certainly worked hard to do the best for her, but we learned quickly that you rarely “know what you don’t know” and we were in the dark about a lot of eldercare options and Florida aging services resources that could have helped.
As most of us “Boomers” can relate, this was not the end of our years of “caregiving” as my Mom and Dad were a bit younger but also beginning to have more health difficulties. After our prior experiences, we sat down and talked through a lot of these healthcare and aging issues with Mom and Dad. We asked them what they wanted should they need help and opened up a discussion about the financial side of things, so that we had a better idea where things stood for them and could begin doing a little research. We made sure they had their advance directives and legal paperwork in place and got introduced by them to their attorney and financial advisor. After Mom had a stroke, her financial advisor suggested we may want to meet with a professional who helps with aging issues, a geriatric care manager. We set up a consultation appointment with Aging Wisely. Mom wasn’t able to attend this first appointment, but Dad came along.
We filled out some paperwork before the appointment and had a great first meeting. It was reassuring to know we were talking to a Florida senior care expert, but one who wasn’t working for a particular facility and could help with anything from home care to assisted living to financial resources. We got some recommendations and began implementing them to get Mom home safely from the hospital. We decided after a couple months to hire the geriatric care manager to help oversee things and attend Mom’s neurology follow up appointments (in this case we lived over an hour away and we also knew the care manager had a better handle on the questions to ask and how to advocate for Mom). Mom and Dad had some wonderful caregivers to help them at home and the care manager had a number of suggestions which helped with their various needs. The biggest comfort was probably just knowing that if a crisis arose, I could pick up the phone and have an expert right there to help me (or even console me as I felt I was boring my friends with the constant stories and woes).
A couple years later, we were at a transitional point again as Mom’s health had worsened and both were feeling overwhelmed with the household. We delved once again in to the world of finding a good assisted care facility and making the transition. This time it was an all together different experience. Our care manager already knew Mom and Dad and helped us to quickly narrow down the options that were not only quality places, but the right fit for Mom and Dad’s needs (which can be even harder when trying to accommodate a couple, at varying care levels). Our care manager arranged for tours/lunches at each of the facilities for Mom and Dad and they felt very involved in the decision.
It is almost too much to list, but here are a few of the other things the Aging Wisely care manager did for us:
• Reviewed the payment options/contract and helped us ask important questions to ensure understanding, as well as negotiate some of the fees related to the move.
• Connected us with the local Veterans Service Office to begin the process of applying for Veteran’s Aid and Attendance benefits.
• Helped us map out the move process and move day to make it less stressful for everyone.
• Made arrangements the day of the move to reduce the stress on Mom and Dad as well as introduce them to their new home (and suggested things like how to integrate their favorite caregivers as they made the transition).
I share this story because I want others to know there are options. You care for your loved ones and will do the best job you can, but sometimes doing the best job means knowing who can help you. A professional knows the questions you won’t even think to ask. An independent advocate made such a difference to our family and I know they can for yours as well. When it comes to eldercare and resources for the elderly in the Tampa Bay/Pinellas County, Florida area, Aging Wisely is the go-to resource.
We appreciate being able to share stories from caregivers and welcome contributions that may help other families facing caregiving and eldercare concerns. Contact us about sharing your story, or for more information and assistance with caregiver consultations and Florida geriatric care management and senior care services.