Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What do we do with Mom? Facing the needs of our aging parents

A friend cornered me at a social even last Saturday night.

“How do I get my parents to agree to move into assisted living?” he asked.

My first thought was, “Do you seriously expect me to answer that question on my way to get another glass of wine, at a party?!” but then, because I am so passionate about helping our parents the best way we can, I stopped to talk more about this.

It’s a question about 1 out of every 5 of my friends seem to be having these days.

What do we do with Mom?

How do we help Dad?

How do we make sure they’re OK, and maybe happy, too?

These are the questions we are all facing in our lives.

There are no “one-size-fits-all” answers out there. But there are some themes to guide us.

Quality of life.
For me, this is the BIG ONE. I don’t really care where my parents choose to live. I don’t care whether they get help or not. I DO care if they are happy. If they are lonely, bored, depressed, or seem to have lost interest in life, they need a change. It won’t be enough for you to promise to visit more often – they need a bigger change than that.

Safety. This is the other BIG ONE. When my parents lived way out in the country – on the farm where they had lived forever, with their dogs, cows, goats, gardens, (wells and septic tanks, too), they were “happy.” But driving to the stores for simple groceries meant curving, country roads and at least 20-30 minutes. Driving to the doctors’ office, an increasingly more frequent outing, meant journeys of 45 minutes to an hour and a half, minimum, each way. The wood stove, the well, the garden, the hike from their house to the bottom of the hill to the barn – these things had lost their romance and now just looked like a great place to get injured. With driving being less of a good solution for either of them, how could they safely manage?

For both my parents and my in-laws, the solution was a senior living community. For my parents, it was a matter of safety. They chose a community, still out in the country, of cottages. It has a central “village” of services they can easily walk to, and a van if they need it for longer outings.

For my in-laws who already lived in town it was a matter of happiness. Socially outgoing people, they had lost nearly all of their life-long friends and companions. Staring at each other and watching golf on TV was getting old; the quality of life was quickly slipping away.

I won’t say it was easy in either case. It didn’t happen quickly. But we all agree today: it was a good thing. It was the right thing to do.

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