That dreaded phone call — the one where you don’t know the person at the other end of the line and he or she says, “we’re calling about your Mother.” In this case, Mother, suffering from dementia, had pulled the fire alarm and the locks on the “locked facility” had released. She walked out onto a busy street in Atlanta, GA and tried to flag down a car and escape. Luckily, a concerned motorist called the Police who called the facility. They walked two blocks and found my mother. Until that moment no one knew she was missing. That was a wake-up call.
Dementia does not mean stupid — it simply means that the mind is forgetting. Mother, a summa cum laude graduate of American University, wanted out! She took a look at her surroundings, saw the fire alarm and pulled the lever. The problem, as you can see, is that her “protectors” are not as smart. Needless to say, we moved her out and found another place for her to live. That was three years ago. Today, she has forgotten how to walk, cannot move her wheelchair and is no longer a flight risk.
If one of your family has dementia/alzhiemers it is incumbent upon you to visit the facility regularly — this alerts the staff and the person receives better care. It’s the old axiom — the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Mother is now in a Medicaid nursing home and we are more vigilant than ever. The stories we hear of horrible abuse might be rare and extreme but they’re true. I check her legs, arms, feet, cut her nails and toenails because no one else does. Mom always has new scratches and I ask about each and every one. She can barely communicate so she is at the mercy of those who attend her.
Inform the nursing home of any issues verbally and follow up with a written document. I always email what I stated verbally.
Dad is in an assisted living facility. He has his wits about him and can communicate his needs to the staff. Still, we’ve had to watch the little things — are they washing his clothes on time, changing his sheets weekly, doing the deep cleans in his room and treating him with respect. As Dad has aged he has also lost motor skills, he is a fall risk and weaker – hence the heightened vigilance. If your parents live together this becomes much easier. They watch out for each other. However, this is an exception, not the rule.
In conclusion, the workers at these facilities care about their residents but are human. It really becomes an issue of time. In a nursing home each attendant has 16 to19 patients a day to bathe, dress and feed. The private-pay locations are more vigilant than the Medicaid nursing homes BUT they also have more employees and better paid employees. I do my best to be “understanding” but, at the end of the day, it’s my Mother and Father and no one messes with them!
THE AIRPORT WHEELCHAIR – HOW TO NAVIGATE THE SYSTEM
The other day, while running in Crandon Park, I came across my friend, Lilian, whose elderly Mom is in pretty good health. Every year she and her Mother go to Santa Fe, New Mexico for mother-daughter time. This means, she, like me, needs to utilize the wheelchair services provided at airports. We’re both experts on the do’s and don’t’s and have compared notes. So, although I’m writing the column, Lilian is a great source of research. She, like many of us, is living it.
Eulan the wheelchair provider at Miami International Airport, has no competition — this means they don’t have to try . . . and it shows. When Dad first needed a wheelchair, I used to drop him off at Door #3, walk him in and sit him down in the wheelchair area. I’d make sure his name was in the book with his flight time. Then I would leave. Big mistake — basically, wheelchair dependent travelers are at the mercy of strangers. It’s as if they are cows in a pen being led to slaughter. OK, I exaggerate . . . but only a little! Too many times, a person is forgotten and are raced to the gate in a cart. Think of how stressed you are when you might miss your flight and double that feeling for someone who has no control and elderly.
That’s not all, the Eulan workforce, i.e. the wheelchair drivers, are paid minimum wage and expect tips. They don’t care about your family member, they want to transport as many people in the shortest amount of time and make money. I remember one particular scene I created when the wheelchair driver left my father alone to retrieve other passengers from other TERMINALS (not gates) to place them all in one cart! This means Dad is sitting in a chair for 20 to 30 minutes. Luckily, I was with him and that didn’t’ happen. BUT, it does happen and it happens more than it should
This is the system and although I don’t like it we must live in it. Here are my suggestions:
Ensure that you have $5.00 bills, $10.00 bills and $20.00 bills in your pocket/wallet;
Get a pass from the airline to escort your loved on to his or her gate;
If you’re a member of the American Express Centurion Lounge or an airline club, have the wheelchair take your loved one there by wheelchair then arrange for a guest services cart to take him or her to the Gate at an appropriate time — these clubs specialize in customer service. Whoever the driver is give him $10.00.
If you’re not a member of a club then escort the wheelchair and the attendant to the gate and tip the attendant well. (I do it on length of transport – the more distant the gate the larger the tip with Gate 60 being $20.00.) Give your family member the $5.00 bill and tell the attendant that it’s for him after he takes the family member to the door of the airplane. This is a little extra security — it mightn’t always work but it usually does.
For connecting flights in other airports stay with your family member. They will take them off the plane and leave them in the wait area to go get more folks off the plane. That’s when you pull out the $5.00 and tell them you have a connecting flight and need them now — ask them to call a peer to retrieve the other passengers. When you arrive at the gate — another tip.
Yes, it costs money but its the best way to work within the system and have peace of mind. If you have other suggestions please let me know. If you can’t don’t have time to do this for your family members, call us at Parenting Your Parents — yes, a little more expensive but you still have peace of mind!
You walk into the lobby and take a deep breath. How did you get here? Why is this necessary? How did my very competent ‘elders’ all of a sudden need assistance living? Other questions pop into your head, will they be happy here? Will they be fed well? Will they like the people here? Whether you’re 40 years old or 80 years old — these are real moments. Change is coming and it seems to be screaming down the train track right at you. Do you jump or simply lie down? Before you decide ask:
- Do the elders want to live near family or friends? If both are in the same location the question is moot. Otherwise, this question comes first. It’s not about YOU as the child it’s about your parent’s quality of life. We all think Mom and Dad should be close to us, family, but that’s not necessarily what THEY want. If they have a life in a separate location and want to stay, keep them there. Today, with UBER and LYFT the ability to drive is not a necessity.
- What is your budget for a senior care center? Certainly this makes a small difference in the food or housing (food and maintenance are fairly comparable) but the big difference is location. You ask yourself — how long will it take to get them to their synagogue or church? How far is it to their favorite restaurant? What other bills will need to be paid?
- How much money is there? Can Mom and Dad afford this on their own or are will the kids have to assist financially? What other sources of monies can be tapped? Are there VA benefits? Widow/widower benefits? Can social security disability come into play?
- Can this facility be trusted? We’ve all heard those horror stories of badly treated seniors and none of us want that happening to our parents. There are many resources and most of them are online. You can look up assisted living centers and many will pop up — most with ratings right next to the name. There is also AARP ratings, YELP ratings and Facebook.
Bottom line: You will have to do some searching — online and in person Peace of mind is what you want in any location. As the children you want your parents well treated — as the residents you, too, want options in food, activities and people. The most important aspect of this is that you and your parents feel comfortable and secure.
Our company, Parenting Your Parents takes no fees from assisted living centers. Our concern is you and we want the option of defending you against them — which can sometimes happen.
NOTHING prepares you for your parents aging. Our company can assist with the financial scams and pitfalls but you’re the one who has to watch Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandad age and weaken. It’s heart wrenching! I write this column as a daughter who has a demented mother (87) and a weakened , non-driving father (93).
Mother is in a nursing home. This nursing home has an excellent reputation and a low employee turn over rate but it’s still one of those places where the halls are filled with moaning people in wheelchairs or portable beds.
This home charges close to $7000.00 a month but accepts medicaid. This means we had to impoverish Mom. By “impoverish” I mean I had to do the paperwork to make her medicaid eligible. We now pay a little over $700.00 a month. I do not have the words to detail the pain . . .humiliation that I felt in using my legal education to make my mother poor enough so she could live with other poor people in her old age. This is not what she wanted nor is it what we wanted. However, Dad is lucid, Mother is not — we couldn’t afford both and neither could they.
Each time I visit Mom I cut her nails, take off the old nail polish, pay for a weekly hairdresser. rub Lubriderm on her skin and place vaseline on her lips. It kills me to leave her although I know in five minutes she won’t remember I was there.. But, there is a silver lining, Mom and I were oil and water as I grew up. We simply didn’t get along. Today however, it gives me great joy to minister unto her — to do little things that allow her to feel special and loved. She always has tears in her eyes when I say goodby and so do I BUT (and this is important) I know when she dies I’ll have done all I can. For that I’m grateful.
I am a “Daddy’s Girl” so watching him weaken is difficult. On one hand I’m so grateful that he has a quality of life that allows him to live alone in an assisted living facility but I still have to cut his nails, hire a barber, and cajole him to use his walker. I accompany him to the 3:30pm weekly Happy Hour when I’m in town but I see his failure to thrive. Who can blame him? He lives in place with lots of old people all of whom are simply trying to get through the day. I know Dad is ready to leave us — I don’t want him to but I know he’s tired of growing old.
And let me end this column by stating that as hard as it has been for me I am once removed. My father chose to live in Atlanta where my brother and his family reside and Matt has had to deal with the day to day. Matt is more stoic but he’s also the baby of the family — and this is a true role reversal for him. He does a phenomenal job and I’m grateful.
To make it a bit more personal I’ve added a photo of Mom and Dad before dementia took hold and we had to take over.