Once my mother broke her hip at the end of June 2018, I realized fully why my advisors had said emphatically, “Leave her in her own home as long as possible.”
My mother nosedived into total, inescapable bewilderment.
During her three-day hospital stay, I was there first thing in the morning every day. And she was in relatively good spirits. Visitors were allowed, so family and friends’ visits cheered her immensely.
However, once I left in the afternoon, she was strongly affected by Sundowners’ Syndrome—a late afternoon malady, characterized by increased confusion and sometimes even panic and difficulty in differentiating reality from delusion.
The first night she was in the hospital, she called about 8:00 to say I had to come pick her up, that they were conducting “weird experiments” on her and “crazy stuff” was going on.
She was to be transferred to rehab on the 3rd day. The hospital had chosen Brookes’ Rehab at Memorial Hospital (on her side of town), but I requested Life Care on Kingsley (Orange Park) for my convenience in visiting. Also, because my daughter’s neighbor (mentioned earlier) had recommended Life Care. Her mother had had a good experience there.
They did not transport Nana till almost suppertime. I, of course, stayed the entire day to oversee the move. Even with my sitting there, she grew increasingly muddled and agitated to the point that she picked up a plastic water bottle from her dinner tray, held it up for me to see and said, “This is a water bottle.”
Finally, the ambulance arrived and I followed her to Life Care, helping her settle in. They had said it might be as long as six weeks there. It ended up being more like three.
Please note: “Skilled nursing care” may or may not be covered by your loved one’s insurance policy. When it came time to leave rehab, we discovered there was no such provision with my mother’s insurance plan. We ended up owing in excess of $3000. I have since been to my own insurance agent and added this coverage to my own policy.
The room was nice and though it was not private, she had a bed by a window. This was a godsend, because her habit at home had been to sit at her bar in the kitchen and look out at her backyard through sliding glass doors. She needed a window.
She was undergoing physical therapy every day, and even managed to get up on her feet with a walker, and shuffle down the hall. But once she was released and reached the Benton House, she never used a walker again…or wanted to. I was pleased since this decreased the likelihood of another fall.
During her days in rehab, I remained in close touch with the Benton House, and when we finally received a release date, a medical staff member came to evaluate my mother. I was hoping for the best (at least what I thought was “best”) and that she would sail through the evaluation and move into the little apartment I had reserved.
However, this was not to be. They gave me no option other than memory care. I remember thinking, ‘If she could just get in a normal situation and have interaction with other people, she would do better.’ I cannot believe now I actually entertained this thought. But make no mistake, once a person has dementia, there is not getting better or “coming back” to a place of mental equilibrium.
So, before the move was to take place on July 27th, I sat down and talked with my mother and explained she could not go home. I pointed to the wheelchair she was sitting in and reminded her she could not walk. I told her about the Benton House and how I had reserved an apartment for her (I still called it this, even though it was to be a shared room with a half-wall divider).
And she agreed. At least at that time.
My children had taken care of moving my mother’s furniture into her little “place,” as she later called it. We brought her bed from her house, but chose to furnish the space with new furniture. We moved in a television and I had cable hooked up, so she could watch the news and her evening shows. The room was lovely. And I had thought to request a bed “by a window.”
On moving day, my daughter and her children came to help and off we went.
Moving Day went surprisingly well.
For a long time, Nana did not have a roommate, for which I was glad, because it gave her time to settle in without the dynamic of having to share a space with a stranger. But when her roommate moved in, it was a good fit. She is a lovely lady, also deep in a state of dementia, a vibrant believer with a sparkling personality. They got along famously, although my mother’s difficulty with hearing wore on her roommate.
The memory care unit, called The Beacon Community, is a beautiful set-up. There is a large common area with dining tables and a big screen TV, comfortable living room-type furniture and a piano. There is a kitchen area where residents can gather around a “bar” to eat meals, have snacks, or do crafts. There is also a separate courtyard with a fountain and screened in porch and plenty of tables with umbrellas for time spent outside.
The staff is marvelous, very caring, very professional, firm, making sure my mother eats three meals a day, for instance, but compassionate, and experts at dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I got to know all the residents there, calling them all by name. My mother…every time I visited…would ask, “How do you know their names?”
I would visit two or three times a week. Every time I would bring apple juice and we would work a crossword puzzle together.
And so passed two good years with few “upsets” or illnesses and when I went to sleep at night, I could enjoy the security that came with knowing my mother had eaten good meals and was going to sleep, safe, clean, and well cared for.
Next week, I will sum up more recent days, add any details I may have omitted, and supply a list of Handy Hints.
Again: I thank you for taking this journey with me and for your many kind and encouraging comments.