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Author Topic: Helping an aging parent -- advice solicited
ClaudiaTherese
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*smile

Yep, I'm serious about wanting advice. If you bring it up, and I'll listen. Input of all kinds is appreciated.

[Caveat: I'll summarize the suggestions in a single post for future reference in case this helps someone else, but I am going to erase the details in a few days. ]

Basically, my spouse and I live in a different country from his 78-yr-old mother, about 3-4 hours away by connecting flight. We're trying to brainstorm how to make her life easier and safer until we can move up to her city (which will be in about 10-24 months, depending on job market).

She is somewhat frail but very independent. Controls her Type II diabetes through diet and exercise, very health-oriented, cooks for herself, lives alone in an apartment building filled with mostly other seniors, and is delighted with her new television set. She's old-world Polish, exceedingly careful with money, and highly suspicious of people she doesn't know. She's more than a bit OCD -- e.g., her supermarket is about 0.5 mile away, but she insists on wrapping the deli meat in an insulated bag with a frozen insert that she brings from home. (She has her favorite cashiers that are used to her quirks, and as long as one of them is working, she gets through the checkout line pretty smoothly.)

Current problems:

1. Recently, she left the water running and flooded the building (she's on the tenth floor, and the water went through the walls down to the basement).

2. 1-2 minute "dizzy spells" several times a day for the last few weeks.

3. She has a lot of stress over not having enough time to do her shopping or get to her doctor's appointments -- she uses a service from the local transit system that requires advance booking and has limited schedules.

4. She is worried about falling and breaking a hip.

What we've done:

Re: 1. We went and spent several days with her, just to get a feel for how things are going. I think this was a one-time thing, and we are not concerned that it is likely to happen again (or, goodness forbid, something with the stove, etc.).

Re: 2. She's gotten a bill of good health from her neurologist, who has been seeing her since her stroke 4 years ago. I've encouraged her to set up appointments with her primary care provider and her cardiologist, which she has done. There is also a network of seniors who keep an informal eye on each other in the building, and she is plugged into that.

Re: 3. She won't "waste money" on a taxi cab, but we are setting up a prepaid account for her with a local cab line. It will be there for her, whether she uses it or not, but she can make that decision for herself. (She refuses money given her directly, but I think the indirectness of "an account" might make it easier for her to accept.)

Re: 4. We're looking into getting her a "home alert" system -- something she can keep in her pocket or around her neck. She already has a cordless phone and our cell phone numbers posted in several places throughout the house.

Also,

5. I've contacted her local "Age and Opportunity" resource network for seniors. She is not eligible yet for home care, as she is still able to undertake all of her activities of daily living on her own (cooking, cleaning, bathing). However, we have a contact now, and I know where to go if things become more difficult for her quickly.

6. We'll be updating her primary care provider about our line of thought. He is, of course, bound by confidentiality not to discuss her case with us, but he can listen and stay in the loop, I think.

7. We are going to get her a computer, internet linkup, and a webcam. She's getting used to the idea, and I think she looks forward to playing some games to keep her mental acuity up (she loved watching Pharoah over Dave's shoulder), and she'd like to see us and the cats daily.

8. We thought about getting someone more formally involved, such as a Geriatric Case Manager. However, that service doesn't seem to be readily available in Winnipeg, and I think she'd resent (and be quite suspicious of) us having another family member "check in on her." When that time comes, I've gathered she would be more accepting of a professional relationship with a caregiver, where she can stay more in control. Also, anything that smacks of charity would not go over well at all.

9. We talk to her 2-3 times per week. I'm going to work on making this a daily habit, unless she objects.

10. I'm looking into setting up an account with a local handyman to be kept on retainer.

11. We're looking into classes at the local university, the local seniors' center, and online, just in case she finds any interesting.

Whew! Lots of stuff. Other ideas?

Thanks!

[PS: will be crossposting to sakeriver and GC]

[ August 30, 2005, 11:47 AM: Message edited by: ClaudiaTherese ]

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Jim-Me
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Nothing I can think to add right now but good wishes...
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ClaudiaTherese
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Thanks, Jim-Me. [Smile]
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ketchupqueen
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Is there anything she enjoys doing? Like bridge or something? My grandma plays bridge once a week with people from the (retirement) community where she lives. Until she had her "episode" (the neurologist isn't sure what it was) she went bowling every week. I'm just thinking if there's some way to find a society or something she enjoys that wouldn't be too far away, it might get her involved in a little more human contact. Of course, if it was just a little far away, it might motivate her to try out that cab account. And once she tried it, she might accept it.
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KarlEd
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That's gotta be stressful. I'm so glad my mom moved next door.

I can't think of anything else to add to your list, but I wanted to check in for moral support [Smile] . Sounds like you have things under control.

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ludosti
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Kind of a long shot, but would she be receptive to having one of her friends (of similar health and energy) live with her? That might help with 1,2, and 4.

It sounds to me like you guys are really on top of things and I can't really think of any other ideas.

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Noemon
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Can her cordless phone be programmed with speed dial numbers, so that she doesn't have to try to remember or read your number in an emergency? It would be much easier for her just to press "2" or something.
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Olivet
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Wow.

It sounds like you have it all figured out. [Wink]

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Farmgirl
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Can you get a shared medical power-of-attorney, so you do have the freedom to discuss things with her doctor if the situation changes or becomes worse?

Farmgirl

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ClaudiaTherese
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Thanks so much, kq, KarlEd, and ludosti. She is generally pretty reclusive and introverted, so I think something like a structured class would be more comortable for her than a purely social interaction. (She's kinda persnickety and particular, too, although delightfully intelligent, eccentric, and funny.) However, I'll be sure to get a lot of different kinds of options out on the table. Sometimes we even surprise ourselves, much less those around us.

I couldn't find a good "how to help an aging parent" site easily online, although there mst be some. I'm going to end up crafting my own. Some of the things didn't occur to me until after several hours of mulling it over (e.g., if we have a local handyman on retainer, it'll be easier to explain some of her quirks in advance and make sure it is someone who won't get too easily frustrated at odd requests).

She won't move to be with us -- she's very settled in right where she is, and change is not her cup of tea. But I think there are ways to make this easier and safer. It's a widespread issue, I know, and as a society, we currently don't have a lot of well-designed systemic options in the US and Canada.

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ClaudiaTherese
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Noemon, we'll get that done. Thanks! (such a simple thing, but it could be so important)

Farmgirl, I meant to put that on the list. I've broached the subject, and she seems amenable. I didn't want to push it too fast, anyway. But thanks for the reminder -- it should definitely be in the list.

(((Olivia))) [Smile]

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rivka
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I'm just here to provide moral support. *hugs*
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ludosti
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I don't know if a situation similar to my grandmother's would work for her, but maybe it'll spark some ideas for you.

My 82 year old grandmother is in really good health and is fairly independent. She lives in a retirement community in her own home, but within walking distance of many of her friends and the community's clubhouse (where they have tons of planned activities and classes). My uncle lives about a mile away, so he checks in on her often and helps her take care of things around things around the house (he works as a maintenance man at the retirement community where grandma and grandpa lived previously). My mother lives about 30-40 minutes away and goes to visit her every week or 2 to help her with her finances (when my grandfather passed away 2 years ago, my mother was executor of his will and has been helping grandma with her finances ever since, since it was something grandpa was pretty tight-fisted about, grandma never learned). While grandma still drives, she doesn't do so often (she's never been really comfortable with driving). I think the community has a shuttle also available for those that do not drive. For now, it's a situation that works pretty well for everyone, but my mom and her siblings have been trying to figure out what to do when the time comes that grandma needs more.

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Storm Saxon
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Are you guys considering moving her to an assisted living facility in the city? There are some really nice ones out there and with those cognitive and medical issues you described, it might be good to have her in a structured environment where help is close by. [Smile]
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ClaudiaTherese
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Stormie and ludosti, it would take a court order to get her to move anywhere at this point -- to an assisted living facility, in with us, to get a roommate, even. We've been around this block quite a few times with her, and she just refuses to discuss it. I think if she doesn't have to hear it, then it doesn't have to be true, you know? So she's made up her mind that she won't hear it.

I'd tried to push this point before with my mother, who was of a similar temperment and personality to my mother-in-law, and I triggered a heart attack. [Frown] I don't think the court is a feasible route right now -- we wouldn't win, and it would just make her feel threatened.

She pretty much can't/won't put up with other people being involved in the intimacies of her day-today living. Not relatives, not friends, not us. Her relationships are very structured, and this is how she maintains a good spirit.

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Storm Saxon
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I'm sorry to hear that she won't let you help, CT. I hope things work out for all concerned. Good luck.
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ClaudiaTherese
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Thanks. I've culled some great ideas from my various friends, and I have a lot of people just sending moral support. That helps so much.

Part of my problem (and I think you will understand this, Storm Saxon) is that I'd have no problem with stepping in and just arranging things the way I think they'd work best. I'd be delighted to "fix it," actually. But she doesn't want "fixing," and her own innate temperment won't gel nicely with accepting certain kinds of help, or help in certain ways. I didn't do as well with this as I would have liked with my mother, but with a little time and distance, I think I can put some of what I learned then to good use.

I keep reminding myself that there is no "perfect solution." There is, however, a path that is more respectful, more safe, and more helpful than most others, and it's really just a matter of finding it. Or, possibly, carving it out together.

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ludosti
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Oh yes, going the court route wouldn't be a good thing at this particular point in time. Has she been able to figure out why she's so set on living in her particular apartment?

Darn, I was hoping she might get interested in a retirement community (it's not an assisted living arrangement - you own the home you live in, but you rent the land it sits on). She wouldn't have people intimately involved in her daily living but would have an opportunity to meet people and get involved in classes and activities at her leisure. It's kinda like living in a gated community with an awesome activity center.

Good luck finding a good situation that fits everyone (you and her).

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LadyDove
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I know that hiring people is tough, but
maybe you could get someone like this on retainer too.

I was thinking that if you could find the right "Girl Friday", you could use her in conjunction with the web cam to take care of your MIL's emergency needs.

Oh, and speaking of leaving the stove on, it might be a good idea to check the smoke alarms and pilot lights.

We went through the same thing with my FIL. For us, one of the big problems was that he ate whatever was in the frig, no matter how old it was. It sounds like you're safe on that score.

Best of luck and good thoughts headed your way.

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ClaudiaTherese
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ludosti, thanks. I agree that would be the ideal solution (from my perspective).

LadyDove, I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

That company looks like just what I needed. Thank you! [Hail]

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jexx
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When I am old (I shall wear purple...but you all knew that [Wink] ) I want to take classes at the local Adult Education Center. Would she be interested in that? Is that available where she is? I think the structure would make her very happy and she could make some friends that share a similar interest (in painting, in cooking, in whatever the class was about). I read somewhere that it is important for elders to keep their brains busy, it's anecdotally a defense against Alzheimer's and dementia. No, I don't know where I read it and I refuse to Google it on the grounds that I am lazy. It actually sounds like she is a peppy senior who has it 'together' overall. What a blessing! (for her and for you and your SO)

You have gotten some excellent advice in this thread, and you seem to have a grasp on the situation anyway, but I wanted to add my two cents because eldercare is dear to my heart. I love elders!

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LadyDove
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::gives CT a big hug::

The feeling is mutual.

You have helped me more times than you can know and it makes me very happy to have partially returned a favor.

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Lyrhawn
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I don't have much advice, but my mother has been taking care of my grandpa pretty regularly for the last few years. He can no longer live on his own now, and lives with my Aunt in Texas, but is up here for the summer, but anyways:

Before he moved to Texas the majority of our help came from the church he belonged to and worked at, and from one of those emergency medical services. The church gave him rides places, and had a network in place to call him periodically to make sure he was alright and just to keep him company. Is there a local church your mother in law belongs to or would maybe join as a social support system?

As for the emergency medical care people. My grandpa wore a necklace with a button on it. If he pushed it, it sent a signal to a receiever next to the phone, and then he had so long to push the cancel button before the signal went through and a voice came on asking him if he needed help. I can remember several times over the course of a year he used it and it was very helpful. The service would call my mother and ask her to go over there, depending on the situation, if it was a "I've fallen and can't get up" type thing, otherwise they'd send an ambulance.

It was very helpful, as he used to fall down a lot. If there is a neighbor she has that you really trust, you could always get one of those safe things that you put in the handle of her door and then put a door key inside. You can tell the combination to the trusted neighbor and then in an emergency they can get into the apartment easily if your mother in law can't let them in herself. Saves valuable time.

Something like this: Pushbutton Key Safe

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whiskysunrise
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My mom and aunt go and help my grandma (she is in her 90s) once a week to get her to the doctor, the bank or where ever else she may need to go. They spend all day doing whatever (sometimes just keeping her company). Basically they are there to help grandma do the things that she needs to but they are also socializing with her. They all enjoy getting together. Most weeks they just run her to the store and out to lunch, but it works for them.
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Bob_Scopatz
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There are electric stoves that have burners that automatically ramp down (or even off) if they sense that there's a dry pot on them. Some kind of weird feedback system. I don't know how it works, but it's a safety feature that I've recommended to many folks worried about seniors in independent living situations who are getting a bit forgetful.

Of course, an iron that automatically shuts off would be good if she still irons her own clothing.

Panic buttons are a good idea. Especially if she's worried about falling and breaking a hip. A cell phone is useful, but something she can wear is especially a good idea.

Careful with money and mistrustful are probably very good things with all those predators out there. My grandmother and her sister had a deal set up with the bank that didn't allow large checks to be drawn without a cosignature of the other one one it. They were also listed on each others accounts so if something happened bills would get paid, etc.

One thing about little old ladies who are tight with money, though, they tend to not get things fixed when they should be. They don't trust repairmen anymore. It's good that she's in an apartment and not just alone in a house that she might not get the repairs done. But even at that, she should probably be checked to make sure things like appliances and lights are in good repair.

If she has valuables that she wants given to specific relatives, tell her to make a list now and, if possible, distribute the stuff while she's alive (things she can do without). It's a huge problem later when people are to the point where they need to enter a nursing home and the nearby relatives don't know what to do with everything.

Transportation is a toughy, but I like your solution of a pre-paid account with the car service company. Makes a lot of sense.

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ClaudiaTherese
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Thank you so much for all of these suggestions. (and Bob, the stove [and iron! Duh. *smacks self] is particularly key -- thanks again)

When I get together my list, I'll post it here. It's a good one.

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