As I drove by my neighbor’s house yesterday, I felt sadness and loss, for myself, and for her. A new chapter has begun in her life and in mine. I’ve known her for years, and in some ways, she’s been a second mom to me. Fiercely independent, a single parent who raised two incredible daughters, a woman who loves being outdoors, she’s been a special part of my life.
She no longer lives next door. It wasn’t a choice that came easily. But when her short term memory started to fail and she could no longer live safely by herself, change was necessary. Her daughters, who became long distance caregivers and I noticed the changes in her memory over the past several years. She exhibited the warning signs I share with people I counsel at the Caregiver Resource Center: weight loss, not taking her medications, forgetting things, poor nutrition, concern for her safety. At first getting her help at home with housekeeping and home-delivered meals was enough, but this was no longer the case.
Her daughters, concerned, wanted her to move closer to them so they could look after her. But she didn’t want to leave her home, her community, the places she knew so well. Moving across country, or even across the state was not something she wanted to do. Living alone was no longer safe. It was time for a change, and the challenge was to find the right place for her, where she could get the care she needed while enjoying activities and making new friends.
Last week she moved into an assisted living facility. Despite her arguments, we knew, and she knew, living alone was no longer an option. Now she has her own room with a sliding glass door so she can still enjoy the out of doors. She’s making new friends and slowly getting engaged in her new life. It will take time to adjust. She still talks with sadness of leaving her home, but her new home “is a nice place. Everyone is kind; I’ve met people I like because we have similar interests. The food is good,” she says.
The conversation drifts to wanting to go back home. We talk about how her loss of short term memory was affecting her ability to be safe at home. How she was no longer able to remember to take her medications and care for herself. We are both sad. We cry. We talk about loss. We are more accepting. Then we talk about positive things that are happening: No longer isolated, she is open to getting to know new people and learning to enjoy new experiences. Together, we are going through a transition in life that is both an ending and a new beginning, with all the emotions that come with change.
As a professional, I counsel people daily on coping with similar transitions. But this time it’s closer to my heart, more personal, because I know and love this woman, not as a caregiver, but as a friend. The transition process is not an easy one, and coming to terms with a new phase in life is challenging.
How can you make the right choice when such a move is necessary? One of the keys to success is to know the essence of your loved one – what he or she enjoys, what is meaningful and what their care needs are. As you look for a place that fits your loved one’s needs and supports his or her abilities it’s important to tour facilities and ask questions.
Once you’ve chosen the right community, seek assistance from the professional staff at the facility and ask for their help on how to introduce your loved one to the new living situation. Each situation is unique, and strategies vary depending on the illness and diagnosis. Moving is stressful for anyone, but in this situation it’s even more important to involve the staff and have good communication for a more successful transition.
After the move, ask how the adjustment is progressing, including sleeping, eating, engaging with others. Get the big picture of what is happening, and don’t relying solely on comments of the person being placed. By inviting open conversation, you are also able to tap into support not only for your loved one, but also for yourself as a caregiver.
The activities coordinator can play an important role in incorporating a new resident into the life of the community. For example, my friend once loved to paint and draw, but put her easel and paints away, not having the initiative to pursue her art. In her new home, encouragement and positive reinforcement will enable her to once again enjoy this hobby.
Transitions take time, but with thoughtful planning and support, the process can be positive for everyone involved. I remind myself of what I teach others, it’s helping, and it works.
There are many places in our community to find support and education on the caregiving journey, including the Caregiver Resource Center at Senior Friendship Centers. To learn more, call 941. 556. 3268.
About Paula Falk
Paula Falk is the Director of the Caregiver Resource Center (CRC) and Adult Day Service Program at The Living Room at Senior Friendship Centers’ Sarasota campus. The Caregiver Resource Center is a community collaboration bringing together agencies and businesses offering services and products to help caregivers through one of life’s more challenging times. Caregiver tips and insights are also featured on 10 Minutes with Paula, on blogtalk radio. For more information on the Caregiver Resource Center, or if you would like to schedule a presentation or program on caregiving for your organization, call 941.556.3270, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www. friendshipcenters.org
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