Thursday, December 8, 2016

Competing Needs

I've written before about my elderly mom who lives about 40 minutes north of me. She is mentally very sharp, but pretty limited with her mobility. She has chosen to stay in her handicapped accessible apartment in a small rural town that she proudly calls home. All well and good, but it has been a balancing act to make sure her needs are met, and to make sure she is safe.

She gave up driving quite some time ago, so she is totally dependent on the help of others for groceries, doctor visits, banking etc. Once a week I faithfully spend the day with her and help her with all of these tasks, including lunch out. She so enjoys it. The socialization is as important as the errands that we take care of.  When I leave for FL, my brother arranges to have every Thursday off from work so that he is able to make the 90 minute drive to help her with all of these things.

Thursdays are never easy for Jim, as he doesn't quite know what to do with himself. He also tends to worry the whole time I am away. I've thought about bringing him along, but it really would not work out. He is not patient with waiting, boredom, delays etc. which pretty much describes my day with mom. So far, I have made this work by calling him every hour or so just to check in. He looks forward to the calls and it is reassurance to me that all is well at home.

Today was mom day, but wouldn't you know it, lake effect snow is coming our way. I started out early this morning, and the further north I went, the worse the visibility became. It just didn't seem safe to me, especially since our days our long (5 - 6 hours), and I knew the lake effect would just get worse. I pulled off the highway to call her and tell her that due to the weather we would need to reschedule our trip. Fortunately she has plenty of food, with a well stocked pantry. Her response to me:

"Well, it's up to you. You're the driver. It's not snowing much here. But it's up to you. You decide."

I knew she was terribly disappointed that we couldn't go today. But I also knew I was making the best decision for everyone involved. Including Jim.

Where we live, snow storms are inevitable during the winter. This is one of the reasons we are so happy to escape for 3 months. I remember that the last two years that I worked (prior to my retiring) Jim was especially anxious with my travel back and forth to work. Even just a few snowflakes would have him worrying and calling me frequently at work, telling me I needed to get home. At the time, I didn't fully appreciate what Jim was going through. I know now that his anxiety was getting the best of him as he worried about me traveling back and forth to work.

When we return in the spring, my plan is to ask my older (retired) brother to help more with my mom. I'm sure he'll be happy to help. He lives quite a distance from her. Selfishly, I'd love to see my mom in an assisted living situation. It would make things so much easier for everyone, but I know that she is not ready yet to give up what independence she has left.

There is this saying, maybe you have heard of it before...."Everyone listens to the same radio station. WII-FM. What's In It For Me." I know it sounds cynical, and of course it is not true all of the time. But  this perspective has helped me to better understand and to be more sensitive to folks who find themselves in the middle of a WII-FM moment.

Competing needs: Jim's, my mom's, and my brother who has some disabilities. They are all just trying to get by, trying to survive, trying to maintain an equilibrium in their life that can keep them happy, safe and content. And then there are my needs too. I'm looking at 2017 as a time to find a better balance.

My trip early this morning inspired this post. I was having a hard time disappointing my mom, but thankfully was able to put it all into the proper perspective. I'm just doing the best I can given the circumstances.

Thanks for stopping by. I so appreciate each and every one of my readers.

18 comments:

  1. Carole, I have walked in your moccasins on this one. It's tough. My parents both had health problems and lived 45 miles from me, an only child. It would have been so much easier on me if I could have had mother closer because her needs were significant, but my father's dementia made him a force to deal with if taken out of his home environment. I had home health nurses and aids scheduled so that someone medical was in their home every day. Their little town and their church were tremendous. Not a single day went by that someone from the church or community didn't stop by to check on them and visit a little while. I so needed them near me for their medical needs but could not bring myself to take them away from their friends.

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    1. I appreciate your perspective Linda. Being the only child I am sure made it all the more difficult. The sense of community is so important. My mom looks for the postman to wave to her through the window every day. She knows all the local merchants, although now is unable to get out and about without someone with her.

      No easy answers, just awareness of the issues, keeping our priorities in line, and not being afraid to ask for help. I have trouble with that last point, but I'm getting better at it.

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  2. Wow, your plate certainly is full. It would really be helpful if your Mom could accept assisted living. It would give you such comfort to know she would always have help at hand 24/7 and your days visiting could be just for socializing and errand free. Has she ever checked one out? I am hugely independent but wouldn't hesitate to join one if I could afford it when the time comes. The one my Mom was in was actually fun and stimulating. I always enjoyed visiting her there.

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    1. There is one less than 5 miles from my home! I've talked to her about it in the past; she always says that she'll know when the time is right. She always had a very strong personality, and this aging stuff has been hard for her. She accepts change, but on her terms and her timing. I think it is her way of hanging onto control as much as she can.

      I'm like you. When the time comes, I'd jump at the chance to join a nice friendly group, not worry about home maintenance, have fun socializing etc.

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  3. When my MIL went into assisted living, I think she thought she wouldn't see much of us. She found that we still made regular visits, took her shopping, out for lunch. This was in addition to the activities at the place. What a relief for us to know help for her was only a buzzer away.

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    1. Hi Sandra. Thanks for your comment. You make a good point, that the fear of isolation from family might be a factor.

      There are a lot of senior options out there. 55+ communities are quite popular, especially in the south. The Continuum of Care Communities are sprouting up as well, where there is everything from independent, to assisted living, to nursing home.

      Glad it worked out for your family and your MIL.

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  4. You might want to actually talk to your mother and let her know what your life is like and how much stress you are under. If she were to move close to you, you could see her every day if only for a few minutes. Possibly she does not realize how hard the drive is for you and how it is becoming more unsafe to leave your husband alone. Under her striving to remain independent, she may be willing to make some changes in her life to help you out.

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    1. Hi Karen. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. She is aware of Jim's dementia, but probably is not fully aware of how stressful our situation is. I'm sensitive to not overloading her too much with any of my burdens, so I am definitely at fault for not being more straightforward with her.

      By asking my older brother to be more involved with her care, I'm hoping this will help to resolve some of these issues. My mom took care of my dad when he developed Lewy Body Dementia, so at some level she probably relates to my situation. At 87, her survivor instincts are kicking in, and her desire to have control over her life and where she lives are probably taking priority for her.

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  5. I agree with Karen, it might be a good idea to broach the subject with your mother. Reading this made me think of my life and where I am going with it. I am on my own now and the brain box is wearing out. I know it and think I should do something about my future while I can still think straight. My family lives too far away to be of much use if my independence fails.

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    1. Thanks for your comment and your insight Valerie.

      I appreciate your thought about acknowledging our limitations, and wanting to control our future as best we can with options that make the most sense to us. I think about this issue frequently. Jim is still able to totally take care of his own physical needs. The point where he starts to lose that ability will be challenging. I try not to get too far ahead of myself, but as you say, it is important to plan as best we can for our future.

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  6. This is a particularly interesting post for me for many reasons. First, I went through the "sandwich" process years ago helping my mother remain independent though she had some sensory issues, years later a slight stroke leaving physical, and mobility limitations while I was in the midst of returning midlife to grad school, coping with children, husband's issues, so I can empathize with some of the pulls on you. Weather conditions were not an issue in Southern California, but what you have in winter -- especially if your mother doesn't have needs delivery service so periodically requires a family member's presence -- would seem to present a time for some further consideration of what's best. While I had no family assistance and, unlike now, little or no outside help was available, everything is relative to each of our situations. Self-interest must be considered for ones own health, as I had to counsel some others when I was working -- you're no good to your loved one or yourself if you wear down, as caregivers sometimes learn the hard way -- same for your siblings. Sometimes everyone, including the loved one, is left with no choices they want.

    When I completed my training, one of the settings I served involved those living in the various levels of the variety of elder retirement communities. These facilities can provide a desirable living arrangement that offers many benefits that fulfill needs of some individuals and their family members. Important to carefully research and compare all beyond surface presentations before making a selection -- many factors to consider and best for elder resident to not have to make many moves if displeased. I have not ruled out the possibility of entering such a setting, but so far I prefer my commitment to the concept of "living in place" (in my home). (Increasing numbers of people are choosing this option -- less expensive than skilled nursing facility, for example, but hope for health care recognizing/implementing this approach in future is less likely to be promoted by new administration).

    I've focused on being able to remain in my home, establishing access to my needs through local services -- home delivery, eventually, if needed -- transportation -- "girl friday" help located recently -- all other needs. Given local friends have long since moved away, died, or both, family is out of state (think half-way across the continent and on the opposite coast), but they're not unconcerned. I don't want to move to snow country -- was fine when I was growing up, but I've had quite enough. So far, my adult children are accepting of my choice and share my willingness to accept certain risks as I continue this quest to remain living independently. Adult children and the parent(s)need to have good honest open communication about the issues when deciding jointly if living in place is advisable. Sounds like you're considering your mother's point of view which is what most of us want from our children. Of course, the situation for me changes if dementia, other cognitive factors provide safety issues -- otherwise, to some degree, life is a gamble -- presents some risk.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story Joared. You have clearly thought about all the pertinent issues and have a workable plan for your future. Your ability to adjust the plan as needed is certainly one of the most important features for anyone aging in place to think about.

      The elder retirement communities that offer varying levels of assistance have always interested me. Unfortunately they are costly. And if being considered I think that some outside independent evaluation of the community would be important. Someone to look at their finances, future plans etc to make sure that investment in such a place is worth doing.

      Yes, life is a gamble. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst as they say.

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  7. I would like to age in place and die in my own house. But, who knows?

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    1. That would be ideal! Being able to safely age in place. I think it is what we all hope for.

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  8. My mom, now 83, has a chronic health condition that significantly limits her mobility. She does not drive but she gets around on a scooter. She has lived in the same small northern Canadian town all of her adult life. She is a very independent and determined person (she likes to joke that her ancestors on her mom's side of the family are stubborn and those on her dad's side are pig-headed).

    She was determined to remain in her home. However, the winter of 2015 was very snowy and cold in her area. She found herself very dependent on friends or my two brothers who live in nearby communities for rides. Much of the time, she felt trapped in the house, as she no longer had the stamina to walk to town (1/2 a mile). (She didn't have the scooter yet.) She made a snap decision to sell her house, and she bought a ground level condo in the center of town. She also acquired the scooter. It has been very important for her to be in control of the decisions about her own living situation. Purchasing the condo was a good decision for her. I live more than a thousand miles away and am very grateful to my brothers for the support they provide to her. I think that when the time comes, my mom will make an appropriate decision about assisted living, as long as she continues to be mentally sharp. But it does make me question whether I should move close to her when I retire, even though that would mean locating far from our grandchildren.

    Jude

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    1. Hi Jude. Thanks for sharing your story about your mom. It's a reminder that everyone's journey is unique. I think we do the best we can given the circumstances. We try to plan ahead and prepare for the future, but we never really know what that future will look like. You face a tough decision about moving (or not) when you retire.

      When we built our ranch home 11 years ago, it was in anticipation of physical disabilities as we aged. Surprise! No physical disabilities (yet). I never considered that dementia would come our way. Another one of "life's little surprises".

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  9. I agree with above people, you should get your mom to live closer to you so you both are at ease in your minds.

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  10. Hi Nasreen. Thanks for stopping by. It's always a challenge, especially as I attempt to respect my mom's wishes for this time in her life.

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