When Your Parent Needs A Nursing Home

The new driveway up to the nursing home.
Image via Wikipedia

Life, as you have known it, is done.

I’ve been facing this sudden reality for about the past two months. My divorced mother, 76, who lives in a very far away city in Canada — I am just north of New York City — now must move into a nursing home. I have someone there sharing power of attorney with me, but even so it has become an unpaid, draining, overwhelming, full-time job demanding almost daily decisions, all of them with major consequences.

None of which are anything I have ever faced before or have a frame of reference for.

I’m the only child.

If you have not yet entered this specific obstacle course, a few things you need to think about:

Does your parent have a will? Do you know where it is and who is the executor?

Have they, in advance, designated a power of attorney?

Do they, or you, have a written inventory of all their belongings and which they might want to keep when they have to trade a home for one room?

What do they want to do with all ephemera — photos, letters, documents? Have you or they sorted through it and identified what is important or of sentimental value? Identified who’s who in the photos?

Who will handle your parent’s affairs financially?

Do they have long-term care insurance? (Do you?)

Have you discussed any of this with your parent?

Do you have anyone, like a geriatric care manager, to help you if you are trying to deal with all of this from a distance?

Here’s what we’ve faced:

She fell in the hospital, breaking her hip in the emergency room

Surgery to repair her hip and months of rehab and physical therapy to regain strength and mobility

Another fall in the hospital, which protested there was no way they could prevent yet another one

Bowel surgery and a colostomy

She has COPD and heart problems as a result

She has early, for now, mild dementia and trouble with short-term memory

The learning curve is vertical!

These are just some of the many people I’ve spoken to in the past three months:

Two nurses, doctors (at least four, so far), physical therapist, occupational therapist, nursing home staff at four homes while seeking a suitable and available bed, hospital social worker, hospital risk manager, attorney, realtor, notary for the buyers for her apartment; auction house coming to appraise and sell her things; Salvation army for picking up the rest, movers to move her into the nursing home, airline (for my flight); car rental (for my visit), UPS (for packing and shipping back here whatever I can take or keep), bank staff to try and arrange handling of her finances…

The only thing keeping me sane is knowing many other women also going through this hell or who have already gone through it, and who kindly offer compassion, humor and advice.

It is a maelstrom of grief, fear, sadness, confusion, anger, frustration, loss. And the cost is staggering — $6,000 a month for one room. Yes, a nursing home room is definitely much cheaper elsewhere, but she is not physically able to move and emotionally would not want to as her friends are in this city.

Have you been through this?

How did you cope?

22 thoughts on “When Your Parent Needs A Nursing Home

  1. I’m really sorry to hear you’re going through this. We put my grandmother in a nursing home about a year ago, and I’ve been offering some support to my mother, who struggles with all of these concerns on a daily basis. Being in the same city hasn’t helped much as it means that she has to book time away from the office to run a multitude of errands and see a ton of specialist. The biggest problem she has, is that my grandmother wrote nothing down, assuming that she’d be able to make decisions right up until she died. My mother is a geriatric mental health nurse and she is still struggling.

    All the best to you and your mom at this time.

    1. Thanks! Boy, that’s sobering if a woman like your mom, who is trained in this field and these issues, is also struggling. I was a medical writer, formerly married to a physician and have dealt with my mother’s poor health for decades — but this much harder.

      One of the problems (and I know you’re Canadian and so am I, and she’s there as well) is how poorly the medical system communicates — which is almost not at all! — with me. I have to chase and chase and chase and chase to get even the smallest scraps of information; when I do get someone on the phone, they are great but I should not have to spend all my time on this. The leverage, here in the US, of the fear of a lawsuit (very real) or loss of profit or prestige tends to keep hospitals and dox on their toes and much more responsive, and it’s a style and speed I’ve become accustomed to.

    1. Thanks. Seriously, start planning. My mother’s doctor told her, last July with me in the room, she needed to stop driving and consider assisted living. She blew her off….and barely seven months later, here we are. It can happen so fast you have no decision or reaction time.

  2. Wow, bsb, you are dealing with huge issues here. It sounds like you are dealing with everything in a really pragmatic manner, which is exactly what is needed now. You are such a strong, big person. I hope you’re taking good care of you underneath all of this … it can’t be easy.
    Strength to you, my friend.
    Sunshine xx

    1. Thanks….It is truly enervating. I go to the gym a lot, sleep as much as necessary (often 10-12 hrs a night) and see my friends or talk to them a lot. The stress pushed me to breaking point last week. And yet the demands never stop.

  3. I went through all this for my grandmother. My mother was working full-time and as you know you can only check out nursing homes, talk to all the doctors, caring agencies etc etc, during business hours. I was at home with a new baby while dealing with this.

    I am now facing going through this with my mother. I was in the same city as my grandmother, but I am nearly 900km away from my mother.

    However my mother has been fantastic. After experiencing the problems that we faced arranging my grandmother’s care (and the care of numerous other relations) she has planned ahead. When she had a mild stroke recently, I just went to her filing cabinet and picked up her medical and financial powers of attorney. I know where to find her will. All the family ephemera has been well documented and most of the people in the copious number of photos have been identified. I am now getting more involved with managing her financial affairs and she has been happy for me to do that and fully co-operative.

    BUT… How do I talk to her about aged care facilities? She is terrified of getting dementia and with her stroke and family history that is a likely scenario. She doesn’t need it now, but in the next few years she will.

    Thankyou very much for your post. You have made me think of the need to survey aged care facilities in her area. She certainly doesn’t need one now, but in the future she will.

  4. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. Go now!

    Here are some of the many problems one quickly encounters — a nice(r) nursing home may have a very long waiting list (the one I liked most from its website has 12 people on their list); may be very expensive and how will you pay for it?; if there are no available beds in the homes you like, she’ll have to go somewhere you don’t like just because they have space, then move her later. I’d check out all the nearest ones (without her knowing) and ask how long their wait lists are. Plus (!!!) some homes do not even have a website (hard to imagine in 2011) and how are you to “tour” it otherwise from where you live so far away?

    I cannot take weeks on end to be out there, nor go back often, so have had to be super-organized and spend hours every single day (esp. with a 3-hr time difference) on phone and email arranging every possible detail in advance of my visit.

    When I was there in July, I noted the name of my mother’s hairdresser/salon so could call her later and also opened up a checking account in my name so I could transfer money from here and write local checks in her city…within four months, I was writing a check to hire an attorney there.

  5. Hoodie-in-Ohio

    I feel your pain!!! I’m in a similar situation with a twist – my 79 year old divorced mom who really needs assisted living for medication management and other “as needed” support services – is fighting me tooth and nail on this. She also fell, broke her hip at the hospital – was trying to get out of the cab for a doctor’s appointment and got tangled up and down she went.

    She’s become quite angry and not the Mom I grew up with! We used to be like 2 peas in a strange pod…we were closer than close and many of my friends envied our relationship. Luckily, as the only child, we made the decision to move her close to me so that as she declines with age, I wouldn’t be faced with the distance issue in trying to meet her needs. Whew!

    I learned from the experience of dealing with her mother….we left her on her own way much longer than we should have and it became a burden on me and a nightmare for my Mom when we did finally move her to be closer to my Mom.

    Anyhoo, all of the things you noted that have to be thought about, we were thinking about until she got it in her head that she was going to do everything herself and her way. I got pushed out of the planning and whatnot so I don’t have a clue anymore as to what’s been arranged. Add to this some of the early signs of memory loss and confusion. Luckily the county’s Senior Services agency is helping with transportation, bill payment, housekeeping and who knows what else. She’s got “friends” advising her about her will and other parts of her life and affairs. I hope whoever she’s picked as Executor will keep me in the loop.

    I know it sounds weird, but right now, I’m in a “wait and see” holding pattern. I can’t do anything she doesn’t want me to do. So for now, I sit back and let her do her thing and take the anger, accusations and other “not-my-Mom” behaviors and attitudes that are flung at me.

    Like I said, I feel your pain….

    1. Poor you! What an exhausting situation.

      I admire feisty women — I’m one and so is my mother — but once dementia and severe illness sets in, things must change, and fast. “Independence” becomes a recipe for disaster, as it has for both of us.

      You cannot take on her anger. She is making her own choices can bear the consequences of those as well. I wish you luck.

      1. Hoodie-in-Ohio

        Thanks for your understanding….luckily I have a great support network of friends and maternal cousins that keep me strong.

        You hang in there too!

    2. carol Wichers

      hello…I have a mother who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers (about 6 years ago) she has definitely been acting very differently for a long time, even before her diagnosis. For years , she was more anxious and a bit obsessional.She has also been very angry, even outrageous at times, at home and in public. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t underestimate the profound changes in the brain with dementia and please try not to take it personally. It has been a long road for me and my sister and I try and hold onto memories of what she was like before dementia. She was energetic, fun loving, civic minded and devoted to her grandchildren. The best advice I have gotten is”accept her as she is now, try not to wish she could be who she was and don’t spend time fearing the future, be in the here and now and accept what is.” Sometimes when I despair and I am depressed, I try and follow that advice. It has helped me, I hope it helps you…Carol

  6. greta doucet

    I have been through same over past few months. Mom was becomiong demented. Broke her back and arm in first residence had to be placed at higher level, very little quality of care provided. It is difficult..

  7. What an overwhelming situation.

    Your post made me realize how remarkably blessed I am with a close extended family of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, neices, and in-laws. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s Disease and required care the last 12 years of her life. My grandfather required care the last year and a half of his. My grandparent’s house has been my family’s hub for my entire life. When my grandmother first became ill, my mom quit her job to take care of her full time for the first couple years. When it became too much for her to bear, my brother quit his job and moved in with my grandparents and lived with them for the next 10 years cooking, cleaning, feeding, changing and dealing with all manner of their daily life. He was never alone in this — there were always family members in the home visiting. When they died, my aunts and uncles came together and somehow managed to divide their entire estate in about 3 hours. While it sounds idyllic, we were not without our share of betrayals, domestic disputes, and all the other dramas you’d expect. Still, I look back on that time with happy memories.

    1. You are — despite all these trials — very, very lucky to have had so much help, both emotional and physical. I have a parent who has never had or wanted close friends in her home city (many, very far away) nor created close ties with people at her church or ever belonged to any groups where she might have created close bonds that might have approximated family bonds. I have always hated this and knew it would make my life a lot harder if things ever went south, and it has. She is VERY lucky to have one friend there who is working like a dog on her behalf.

      However ugly it sounds, I do not have the idea this will be a time of warm memories. I am doing my best, but it is a huge drain on me, my partner and my own work — i.e. income — with little gratitude or financial help from her, who has plenty of resources. I have not lived with her since I was 14 and she has never helped me out since. So I will do the right thing, but it’s no Hallmark moment.

  8. Pingback: 'Life, as you have known it, is done'

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