Confronting the Reality of Having to Put an Elderly Loved One in a Nursing Home – Faith & You by Terry Pluto

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – A few weeks ago I wrote a column about Heidi Martin. She is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Case Western Reserve and has also looked after her mother for 17 years due to a stroke.

This brought up this email from Mary (not her real name):

“I had to place my mom in an assisted living facility… due to an ever-growing list of my own mobility issues (bad back and torn rotator cuff when lifting and moving her) and my continued loss of life. seen. I was diagnosed with open angle glaucoma in 2007, shortly before my mother had a stroke.

“There was also a lack of support. I had no options. I was one of those family members who stood at her window last year everyday despite the snow / rain / heat.) So I’m sitting with 14 years of my life gone and a woman 90 year old who is basically healthy except for a terrible blow.

“I get discouraged sometimes – ALWAYS lonely. But yet, I know how lucky I am to have had this moment with one of my best friends. I hope all of Heidi and Terry know how lucky they are to have such positive support – not just from the community and friends / family, but from their God.

ALL CASES ARE NOT THE SAME

When I spoke to Heidi we knew we had great support and money to help parents in what we call “Stroke Land”. This was the case for almost five years in the 1990s with my father.

But I was also part of a team of people who made the decision to put our “mom”, Melva Hardison, in a retirement home. It was three and a half years ago.

Melva had entered and left the hospital with heart problems. We had people come to help us take care of her, but it became too much for them and for us. She was also depressed, had stopped eating, and was in hospice care when I was tasked with finding a nursing home.

When looking for the right place, think of it almost as a matter of life and death. Do some research online. Talk to people who have been in the same situation. Visit of the facilities. I went to six different before settling in the village of St. Edward in Fairlawn. There are other good addresses.

It turned out to be a saving gesture for Melva. She got stronger. She left the hospice. She has had a few health issues but is in better shape now than her last few months at home.

There are many horror stories about retirement homes, so there is reason to be extremely careful. But I doubt Melva would have lived a month longer if she had stayed home. She is now 95 years old.

Melva Hardinson is called “Mom” by Terry Pluto and many others. Photo by Roberta Pluto

CAREGIVERS ARE OFTEN USED

I met a man who was taking care of his wife. She had Parkinson’s disease. She kept falling. He fell several times trying to help her – he eventually needed two hip replacements.

They entered the establishment together. She is deceased, but he is in better health.

Caregivers often end up with major physical problems, not least because many are elderly themselves. They just aren’t strong enough to help their loved one.

Caregivers also make huge sacrifices. As Marie also wrote:

“I quit my job (18 years as a clinical social worker for a palliative care program). As for extracurricular outings, how can I take advantage of them when my mom cannot be alone for a few hours? This is not a good idea for someone with limited mobility and no verbal skills. It is also an excellent invitation for adult protection services to get involved.

Finding good home health care workers is a challenge, especially in this job market. COVID-19 has led many people to leave the healthcare field.

When a good friend had to place her mother (also having a stroke) in a nursing home after nearly four years of home care, we talked a lot about the guilt involved in the decision. But everyone was exhausted, emotionally and physically.

Like Melva, my friend’s mother has adapted to her retirement home and is doing quite well.

NO EASY ANSWERS

COVID-19 has made life in long-term facilities more difficult as visitation times have been reduced or eliminated entirely. Isolation has become a killer, as have COVID-19 and the other health issues that older people face.

But a key is attention. Call them on the phone. Visit when you can. Develop relationships with nurses, helpers and social workers in the establishment. Learn their names. Be quick to praise. Write thank you notes.

When there is a problem, be sure to call – but don’t yell or curse. To be involved. Be persistent. But also be kind. As with most other businesses, labor shortages abound.

If the nursing home has a problem, buy a new one. Do the research. Talk to friends. Ask if they know anyone who is in a good long-term care facility.

Finally, it comes from Andrea (not her real name):

“There is nothing wrong with moving your parents to a high quality facility where they will be cared for on a daily / hourly basis, where their medications will be administered in a timely and correct manner. This is where they will receive healthy meals without our fear of Mother accidentally leaving the stove on.

“Mom and Dad want the promise that they’ll never have to move out of their place, but a lot of times that’s just not what Mom and Dad need.

“My siblings and I were blessed that our parents did not ask for this promise. Both passed away peacefully after being well cared for by trained professionals in quality elderly care facilities. The mother realized on her own that she needed more help and chose when and where to move. And yes, it was a “move”… we didn’t “put her in a house”. This stigma must end.

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