Recently I have been giving a number of talks at Assisted Living Communities about the ideas in my book. “Can We Talk? A Financial Guide For Babyboomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents” I make a point of talking to a number of attendees before each meeting. Many of them are the adult children of elderly parents who are beginning to struggle with maintaining their own homes and leading an independent life. I can see the turmoil their children are going through. I went through it myself.
When you see your parents making every effort to maintain control of their lives but at the same time watch that control slip away it is a very sad thing. When my mom kept getting lost making the trip from her apartment to the dining hall at her independent living community, I knew we had a problem. But I tried everything I could not to disrupt her life and keep her in an environment where she was comfortable. I didn’t want to upset her. We hired round the clock aides to assist her but after a month we realized it wasn’t working. She became even more confused when the aides kept changing every 8 hours.
Finally my wife presented me with the cold, hard facts that I had been trying to ignore. My mother could no longer live in her lovely two bedroom apartment. We had to move her to an assisted living community that specialized in serving memory impaired residents. I was shocked and upset but I knew my wife was right.
My wife found a wonderful facility close to where we live that had only 50 residents and was known for its Alzheimer’s care. The day finally arrived when we were going to move her. I was a nervous wreck. What if she refuses to go or gets very upset? I slipped into my role as her child, not willing to become the strong parent that I needed to be. But my wife rose to the occasion. She told my mother that we were going to a place where they would help her get back on track and start to feel better.
The first few nights were ok, but she kept asking me on the phone, “When am I going to go back home?” My wife assured her that she would stay there until she was doing better. After a few calls to the director stating that I thought this was a bad decision and my mom was ready to go back home, the director suggested I not call my mom for several days. She was absolutely right. My calls were the trigger that made her think back to her previous life and kept disrupting her adjustment. I held off on my calls and she began to adjust.
After a week my wife stated, “we’ve got to move her furniture up to her new room and store what she doesn’t need.” Again, I became my mother’s child. I was concerned that she would be unhappy with me or disapprove of what I was doing. I responded with, “What if in a few weeks she demands to go home and says she doesn’t want to be there. What do we do then?” My wife replied, “ If she says that, do you really want to move her back to a place where she’ll be lost and confused? Do you think that is the right thing to do?” I knew we were making the right decision, but it seemed so hard at the time.
My mom has been at her new home for a year and a half now and she is very happy. We know that we took the right steps to change her environment and put her in a community that offered her the care she needed. I am sure that there are many other adult children facing the same decisions I had to make. Fortunately I had a courageous wife who would not let me ignore the reality before me. I learned that it is very difficult to become your parent’s parent but it is often the only thing you can do.