Derf Assist List > helping elderly mother

My mother, who is 82, will be moving to an independent senior living facility near my house in late April. We have not lived in the same town since I graduated from high school 35 years ago. We have never been very close, mostly because we have such different personalities. Over the years I have figured out that we do fine together on visits for about two days--after that, we seriously get on each other's nerves. After she moves here she won't be driving anymore, but most of her needs (meals, hair appointments, etc) can be met on site at the senior living center. I'll need to take her to doctor's appointments, the grocery store, etc.

She is fine mentally, but she has a hard time getting around and moves very slowly. She uses a walker and tires very easily. She is hard of hearing and only occasionally will wear her hearing aids. My siblings--one brother, one sister--both live across the country, so I'll be the one to help her out here when she needs it. She cat naps a LOT during the day and is awake a good part of the night, which makes it difficult to fit her into a normal family routine. I still have teenagers (homeschooled) at home who are involved in many extracurricular activities. I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to balance everyone's needs without getting resentful and crabby.

My question is for those of you who have had responsibilities for an aging parent. What did you do that was most helpful to your parent and yourself during these years? Is there something I need to be doing now to prepare for her future? She already has her legal ducks in a row--power of attorney (me), will, etc. I have access to all her financial stuff so I can help her with that if needed.

Mostly I worry about us just not getting annoyed with each other. I'd love any "things I wish I knew before" advice. I am dreading the process of paring down her belongings to fit in a one bedroom apartment and helping her give away items that have sentimental value to her but are not of value to others. Is there a way I can make this less painful for her?

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Your mom's situation sounds a lot like my mom's situation back in 2008. My mom had a medical crisis which commanded enough of her attention that she willingly let go of her material possessions - we sold the whole house out from under her, actually, except for a very few mementos. Some she chose, others we chose for her. Other we chose to keep ourselves, incase later she wanted them (she didn't).

In our family, it is my brother, not me, who is in your position, and - frankly - it's his wife, my sis in law, who has the biggest burden. There are a lot of personal errands that the facility doesn't do - personal laundry, hairstyling, travel for doctor's visits - that my sis in law does for mom.

My mom took a couple of years to feel at home. She was not in good shape when she arrived, but she's recovered (she's now 87). She is not a "joiner" - if your mom is, she will have a better time of it. Encourage her to go to activities. Keep her connected. My mom now uses an I-Pad to stay up with the world.

One thing I learned about my mom at this age was that even though she was bored and wanted company, she didn't need - didn't even WANT - lengthy company. Spend a half hour with her - it doesn't need to be all day. Make a daily phone call. Send a card, a little thing. It's more the constancy of the contact than the duration, that made her feel loved.

Little things. A chocolate bar. A magazine. A potted plant. Those mean a lot to my mom; in a funny way, they mean more than any heartfelt daughter-to-mom connection. PS - make the kids visit her. Even if it's just to drop off her laundry, make them spend 15 minutes with her.

(you say her legal ducks are in a row, so I am not worrying about those issues for you.)

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

Going on a little more, here - don't plan big outings. No Sunday afternoon dinners, no big family reunions, no take-you-out-to-lunch. Unless she wants it, that is.

My mom is frightened to leave her comfort zone, so an outing to a local cafe for lunch is the most excitement she can take. And coming over to my brother's house for holiday dinner is a big deal - and she can only take it for a couple of hours at most.

So - again - think of short visits. Stopping by on the way home from work to say hi. The kids stop by to drop off some library books. I'll come join you for the string quartet in the activity room on Wednesday night. Have lunch with her in the dining room (if they allow that - my mom's place does) and meet her tablemates.

Little stuff. Don't stress her out and don't stress yourself out, either. You'll do good - you're lucky she has her legal stuff all taken care of (so does my mom - I know how lucky I am).

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

My aunt's favorite thing was when I would bring her a plate of homemade food with my visit. I think the dining hall food (like dining hall food) can get old after a while. She also had this little ledge outside her door and she loved when I brought something seasonal to put on it -- a pumpkin in October, a little Christmas tree in December or daffodils at the first of spring. She also liked it when I joined her in the dining hall so she could show me off to her friends.

February 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterMrs. G.

I had to do the pairing down too and that was rough because my aunt was a bit of a hoarder. I sat down with her and we made a thorough list (it took hours) so I could document the things that were most important to her. I feel for you. This is an exhausting process.

February 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterMrs. G.

My Mom was not particularly kind to female members of the family. Each visit she began the conversation with, "what do we hear from the boys?". As the boys were not participating in any way, shape, or form, this got very, very old for me. The best thing I did to endure this kind of treatment, was to make sure I had an alternative what-I-like activity to follow the visits. In my case, it generally involved visiting my grandchild. Although any baby would do in a pinch. It just helped to keep me grounded. In the last year or so, I also had good friends who fed me, body and soul. They had their own parental challenges, but their load was divided by other participating family members, and they got, really got what it was like for me. Not sure I would have made it without them. In the final days, I took a card table and a jigsaw puzzle and set up in her room. Gave me something to focus on while I told stories of her past back to her. And the nurses and aides would linger a bit longer than they did otherwise. As I write this, I'm finding that I'm still traumatized 5 years later. Good luck to you. And yes, let the kids in on it. When I was much younger, I visited a great uncle with my guitar in hand. Most of my practicing happened in his room. Record family stories - interview style - and let the kids write them up? And always remember the flight rule - the first oxygen mask is for YOU. Take care of yourself, and the rest will work out. But that is a very important rule to remember. It can make all the difference.

February 28, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous, because

Oh, that's right, Mrs. G. In my mom's facility there is a virtual arms race rivalry in outside-the-door-ledge decor! One-upping your neighbor in the quality of your display is a big deal at my mom's place.

February 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAunt Snow

The only issue I can address is her hearing loss and not wearing her hearing aids. They may not be adjusted properly for her loss and/or they may be uncomfortable. Either or both of those make wearing hearing aids a miserable experience. There have been huge advances made in hearing technology the last 5-6 years and if finances permit, I would suggest taking her to an audiologist to talk about new hearing aids or adjustments on the ones she has. If she enjoys watching TV or listening to the radio, newer aids have Bluetooth accessories that send the sound directly into the hearing aids. Telephones have never been very compatible with hearing aids but with the newer aids, several manufacturers have accessories that also use BlueTooth technology to send a cell phone signal directly to the hearing aids. Hearing loss is both exhausting and depressing as well as being hard on family members. Unfortunately, they aren't cheap or covered by the majority of insurance companies but they are definitely worth the cost if you or she can afford to upgrade her aids and I strongly suggest an audiologist who is familiar with several brands rather than a company that only sells one, like Beltone.

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarthaMc

Thank you, everyone, for your replies. You've given me lots to consider and some really good concrete ideas. Once she moves here, I will get her hearing aids checked out. Our local university has a good audiology department, so we have great resources. I had no idea that hearing aids could be bluetooth compatible. Amazing.

I noticed when we visited the facility that all the apartment doorways have niches that lots of residents had decorated. My mom loves to decorate, so I will encourage her to have fun with that. I'm not into decorating, so I really appreciate the heads up that that is likely a bigger deal than I might have realized.

I also appreciate the tip about short visits and bringing homemade food. I can certainly do that. I know that visiting us now, which always involves at least a week at my house, is exhausting for her. Now that she will be just down the street, we can do regular short visits instead--good for everyone, including me. My 13 year old is already planning his grandma visits and looking forward to seeing her more frequently. He's a cheerful kid who never met a stranger, so he'll likely be able to introduce her to all her neighbors after his first visit there. I like the idea of little unexpected gifts too.

I am going to try to start to build a network of friends here who are also sandwiched between raising their kids and helping parents. We're a little out of sync age-wise with many of our friends since we had our kids later than many. I do know that I'm going to have to have support for setting boundaries with my mom. She likes to be waited on but doesn't like to wait, so that's been a struggle in the past when she visits.

Thanks, everyone. I knew I could count on Derfs to have great ideas.

March 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Anna, it sounds like you have a number of options to assist in making a smooth transition for your mother.

I just saw this today about the new ReSound aid that works with an iPhone and iPad. It is the most advanced I've seen with Bluetooth compatibility. It has just been introduced and is getting good reviews. They also make one that works with Android devices but it requires an additional accessory which is like a small tie clip that streams the sound from the phone. Both of these aids have a mini mic which can be used in a car, restaurant or any difficult listening situation. I hope you can find something that will suit your mother's hearing loss.

March 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarthaMc

We just moved my in-laws into a villa at the retirement community two weeks ago, I don't have any advice except get all the family involved so it isn't just you and be very, very patient with both you and her. This is hard work.

And find a place to vent, like here.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermolly