Monday, July 12, 2010

When the Children Become Responsible for Their Parents

The weekend is just about over, and we are relaxing on Curlew and recovering from Holland’s loss of the World Cup to Spain; however, some of the folks in my family are very happy with this outcome!

Thierry came to the boat on Tuesday hoping to get some work done and to prepare for his trip to Maine, but the weather decided not to cooperate. It was extremely hot and humid and then the rain came; not conducive to varnish work. When I arrived yesterday (Saturday), the rain was sporadic, so we hunkered down below. Thierry was able to get a coat of varnish on the wood trim this morning, finishing just in time for us to meet my sister and her husband at a local sports bar to watch the game. We leave tomorrow for Philadelphia where Thierry will finish his preparations for his trip.

Due to my chemo schedule, I will not be sailing up with him. Two friends will help Thierry take the boat north. I will take a week off of treatment in August and join him for a few weeks.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, mom has been in the hospital and rehab twice in the last nine months; the first time with bronchitis and this last time, with a broken clavicle suffered after a fall she had in the kitchen at home. Since the winter, mom has been complaining that she doesn’t remember things and she has been in a lot of pain from a torn rotator cuff. The rotator cuff really requires surgery, but due to the difficult nature of this type of operation, it does not seem to be an option for mom at her age.

After mom’s fall, we all scurried to figure out how to make the home habitable for her as an extended stay in a rehab facility would ultimately be unaffordable for my parents. My sister went on Craig’s list and found a stair lift which my brother spent hours installing. A few years back, he had added bars to their bathtub/shower enclosure, along with a hand-held shower head. We asked for a portable toilet which can be placed over the bathroom toilet, providing support bars for the user. Fortunately mom had a hospital bed in a guest room that she acquired when her sister passed some years ago.

For several years, my sisters and I have been worried about how my parents are going to continue living by themselves in their two-story house (with a basement). Dad has some difficulty seeing and has a very bad knee. Mom tends to fall – she just kind of keels over. Their laundry is in the basement as is their food storage area (cantina, or condine as Thierry and I call it). When mom was in the hospital during the winter I talked with them about getting an alert system, one that requires them to wear a device that can be activated if they need emergency assistance. Dad immediately rejected the idea, but now mom is okay about having one. Dad says he takes a telephone with him when he goes out into the garden, but I don’t think he has it with him all the time, like when he is in the basement.

Trying to get them to talk about moving is an impossible discussion, primarily because my dad absolutely does not want to move. Also, the cost of a senior facility can be prohibitive – but only if they both live another 5 years. They will both be 90 in September. Due to my mother’s illness, they finally gave up the idea of my mother continuing to drive – but for a long time, that also was a discussion we couldn’t have. We have been talking about cleaning out their basement which is cluttered with stuff collected over 50 years and is now old, broken, dirty and unused. Dad won’t hear of it!

I’ve heard experts on the radio talk about how we children should have discussions with our parents about their well-being and how “we” can make decisions together in order to help them maintain a safe and healthy life-style. These experts haven’t dealt with my parents. At what point do they (our parents) - or we for that matter (when we reach their age) - shut out the noise and suggestions from those around us and insist that the status quo is the right decision? Good grief this sounds like me at 17! But aren’t adults supposed to know better?

It seems that at some point, when we reach a certain age, we become almost incorrigible, cranky and more determined to have our own way. A friend said that our parents don’t consider the impact these types of decisions have on their children. True, and they really don’t care. Perhaps they make these decisions to reinforce the fact that they are still in control of their lives and of their own minds. And how much should we push our parents to make these decisions. Like a child, experience is the best teacher, but falling at 89 is a lot more serious than falling when you are 17 – there is a good chance you won’t get up. But then, even if mom was in a senior community, she could still fall and dad would be in the same position of having to send for help.

I am rambling. I am concerned and I feel a bit guilty that my parents can’t live with me (and wouldn’t want to), and feel guilty that I am not there more for them. But maybe elder-proofing their home and enabling them to stay there longer is the nicest thing we can do for them.

I’d welcome any input to this writing from all readers, especially my senior readers. If you have trouble posting, email me at and I will post your comments to the blog with your permission.

Who knows what the future holds. It’s been a good day and a great week.


Karen Kron said...

Unfortunately, so much is taken away from us as we get older, and so much more seems to be out of our control. My parents were in the same position, let's say my mother. She did not want to move away from the house she had known for 50 yrs and the friends she had grown to love and could walk to their homes, or meet them out her front door! I believe the key is to make those decisions and to downsize well before you HAVE to do so. You are in a much better position in your 60s to make a rational decision than you are in your 80s or 90s. It won't be any less emotional then, but they could still get used to a new routine and maybe even like it.
As far as the house, I'm sure you have considered adding a small space on the first floor for a washer and dryer and maybe a handicapped accessible bathroom for the future if needed? It would still cost less in the long run than going into assisted living. Or maybe you could pay an aid to go over once or twice a week to help with wash, cleaning and grocery shopping. If your parents are anything like mine, the ladder won't go over too well, outsider, you know!
Well, I could go on and on. As you know, I have a little experience in this area and have some connections as well. If you need more suggestions, or want Rick to look at their house for possible alterations, please let me know. We will be happy to help!!

Karen Kron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gpcmouse said...

I sent you long email at the address you gave above but it came back from the email 'demon'??

Mary B said...

An email received from BG:

I think you are doing the right thing by making it possible for them to stay at
home. It's great they have loving care support from family. My Aunt didn't
have this kind of support and the only answer for her safety was to go to a
home. My Mom, also turning 90, is alot like your parents - she wants to remain
independent for as long as possible and I will do all I can to support her
wishes. Luckily she also has a good support group. I do, however, need to
bring up the bracelet idea...thanks for the reminder.

Mary B said...

Karen, I think you make a great point - discuss these things in your 60's and 70's when you can be a bit more rational. This would also take a lot of worry off the children. It also helps when you have a pension to support a lifestyle in a retirement community. In the states, there are few solutions for those who don't have lots of money.

Thanks for your ideas, especially moving the washer and dryer. Some of these we have put in place or have discussed.

Mary B said...

From MM:

Mary - I've been in similiar situations with Dennis' mohter and Aunt Gwen. Dennis' mother sold her house, moved into an apt. she hated and when she had to have nursing assistance didn't have the money left for it and ended up in a crappy nursing home.
Aunt Gwen on the other hand refused to go inside the retirement communities where we had made appts. to tour and interview. Note the bolded we - I had made the appts because she was living alone, falling and Dennis was rushing over to beat the ambulance. When SHE made up her mind it was time to move, everything went much smoothly, even giving up driving.
The problem is there is a very very very thin line between when they should and when they do make the decision. With your mom falling, there may reach a point when it's no longer possible to get into a retirement community with so many falls etc. Also they have each other and you have a larger than many family, friends circle to call on so they don't see the immediate need to make any decisions.

I wish you all the best - it's never an easy situation. I hope I learned something from it so I don't burden Rob when the time comes.

Mary B said...

From my cousin, RI:
I am nowhere near 90..If I make it until 4/11/2011, I will however, hit 80.
Right now, no problem caring for myself.
While caring for Erlene I accepted that caring for oneself won't last forever and reconciled with the fact that in the furture, my lifestyle will change.
Most of the family knows that a year after she passed, I sold my house to one of my grandsons.
Too big. Too much yardwork..Unnecessary expense.
I now live in Greensburg, four rooms,two story, 40X80 foot lot on which sit a house,a garage and a tool shed. Low taxes and insurance. Low maintenance costs.
Convenient to everything I need, I am surrounded my cousins and former classmates.
To go to mass, I walk thru my backyard, cross the street and another half block.
I have a marvelous neighbor who cuts my grass, clears the snow and does things that involve a ladder.
I am less than 30 minutes from 3 of my daughters.
They would like to see me in a one floor situation. Sooner or later, even my stairs will become an issue.
At that time, instead of moving, I have a builder cousin who can add a bedroom, bath and laundry for less than another home. And that is what I will do.
Beyond that, I accept whatever is necessary. Perhaps that makes me a wuss. perhaps that makes me a wise person.
Maybe I fold too easily.
When a place in a highrise was available, our mother would not hear of it. When she decided it might be a good idea, the waiting list ws 6/8 years long.
But. My cousins were 10 minutes away and I was 20 minutes away, Carl, less that 30.
Three years ago I lost 3 cousins in 9 months. They were a sister and 2 brothers.Two were older than I, one younger. One was a widower, the other left a wife behind.
She has crawled into shell from which she will not be removed. Except for her sons,one of whom is local, she is in contact with no one. Has a 2 brothers-in-law and 2 sisiters-in-law within 200 feet and never sees any of them.
Keeps the drapes closed. The son and daughert-in-law shop for her. Goes nowhere.
Some us are a little more stubborn than others.
I wish you well.
You have a strong family and outstanding family ties. From my observation, none of you is selfish.
Lots of love..