I remember the first time I noticed my mother had memory problems. We were watching a television program and when it came back on after the commercial, my mom thought it was a new program and didn’t realize it was a continuation of the program we had been watching for the last thirty minutes. I later learned there were other signs. Like the time she got lost driving home from the grocery store in a town she had lived in for 40 years. My mom lived in Iowa and I lived in Arizona. We would talk on the phone on a regular basis and she always told me things were fine. She sounded healthy and she always made sense during our conversations. I didn’t realize how bad things really were. Then it all came to a head. Mom was flying home from her trip to Arizona and had to be detoured through Denver due to weather. She got lost in the Denver airport while trying to get to a connecting flight. We were all panicked as we waited for airport security to call. They eventually found her, 18 hours later, in an unopened part of the new terminal. She was sitting in the dark staring off into space. She didn’t know where she was, where she was going or how to get help. That was the first time my family all agreed that there was a problem and mom needed help.
Fortunately for me, we all agreed that she needed help. For many families, this is the first big hurdle. Although my sister and brother agreed with me that mom needed help, we all had different ideas about what that meant. My brother lives in New York and wasn’t ready to deal with these issues. Fortunately, he didn’t want to fight about them either. His solution was to offer to pay for whatever mom needed and just go with the flow. My sister lives in the same town as mom. She was in denial. She thought mom was acting this way on purpose. She didn’t understand that just because she told mom something on Friday, it didn’t mean she would remember it later that day, let alone the next day. My sister thought mom was just “being difficult” and “doing this to get attention”. It was hard for her to believe that mom had dementia. She looked physically healthy. She could carry on a social conversation with the best of them. But she also forgot to eat, change her clothes or bathe. My sister moved mom into an independent living setting where they prepared two meals a day. She thought this would be enough for mom. She was wrong. Thankfully, while she was living in the independent living community, mom met Jackie. A social worker who was also a Geriatric Care Manager, Mom liked Jackie and listened to her. My sister agreed to let Jackie develop a plan of care and make recommendations for the most appropriate setting for mom. My brother, staying true to form, agreed to help pay her expenses as needed. I felt a huge sense of relief because I knew what to do, but I didn’t know the resources in Des Moines to help mom and I could not be there to monitor her status and make sure her needs were being met..
Jackie has been a blessing. My mom has lived in nice facilities, received excellent care and had all her needs met. When Jackie noticed mom was isolating at the facility, she put a caregiver in place for three hours twice a week to take mom out for Chinese food and to play putt-putt golf with her, two things mom loved. When mom went to the emergency room, Jackie was there to communicate with the doctors and make sure mom didn’t get scared in such a loud, unfamiliar place. And now that mom is slipping away, Jackie has brought in hospice and continues to make sure all of her needs are met. Jackie has communicated with the three of us on a regular basis. As a peer, she involves me in the decision making process, which gives me great comfort..
All in all, I consider myself lucky. Mom got the help she needed before anything bad happened to her or anyone else. Although we don’t always agree with each other, my brother, sister and I have all come to appreciate and respect the recommendations provided by Jackie and we have all agreed to allow her to manage mom’s care..
Although my story is very personal to me, it is not a unique story. Every day, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters are going through these same issues. Is mom’s situation normal aging or is it something more? Can mom safely stay home or does she need to move to assisted living? Can mom still drive? For us, having a Geriatric Care Manager to assess mom’s situation, make recommendations, put those recommendations in place and monitor mom’s status on an ongoing basis, making adjustments as needed has been a blessing and a relief. It has allowed each of us to step out of the role of caregiver and back into the role of family. It has given my brother and me peace of mind knowing we live far away and can rely on Jackie to make sure mom’s needs are being met. Most importantly, it prevented us from fighting about mom’s care, agreeing instead to follow the professional advice and recommendations of our Geriatric Care Manager.