98-year-old Mother-in-law’s Visit–continued

Insights: The Old Old and Change

Two years ago when my then 96-year old mother-in-law and Senior Advisor R, flew to NY, we were in our suburban home. She had been there many times, felt completely at home, and loved coming. This week she came to see our new apartment (which has no guest bedroom) and celebrate our anniversary with us.

R is in a hotel two blocks away. We thought we’d chosen wisely and carefully. And we did. But how were we to know the doors to the rooms were thick and very heavy–difficult to push open, especially with one hand holding a cane for balance. Difficult even for me to push open!

My husband and I, of course, looked at the rooms before making the reservation. We didn’t, however, open the doors to the rooms. One of the staff had the keys and that responsibility. With visions of R trapped in her room the next morning, we reminded her she could push the phone’s “O” button and request someone come open the door for her. As mentioned in the last post, her flight arrived late at night. We knew she would be going to sleep before long. In the morning we would rectify any other unexpected challenges.

A woman who takes pride in her independence, R is creative about making things work out for herself. But in a strange hotel room, she wasn’t so inclined. The thermostat (room was too cold–we reset it); the TV remote (looked like hers, but the channels had different numbers necessitating reading the accompanying chart, which we explained but she said she was too tired to get her reading glasses and focus); and the telephone, which had a zillion strange buttons, was confusing.

None of these would cause younger people more than a few moments hesitation–but they were a change and as such, presented challenges to her taken-for-granted way of living. While confident and able to adapt to any new problems she encountered in her own home, she lacked the energy and will required to learn something temporary at this stage of life.

R feels responsibility to share aspects of aging with you through my blog and makes the point that although she knew the trip to NY wouldn’t be easy, she was mentally prepared for challenges. However, two realizations emerged:
1. Not being able to do certain things easily, that she could do but a few years ago, was sobering.

2. The blessing of being together in NY was special and rewarding for R. Indeed we all had a good time, excellent meals, substantive talks, and some laughs. R. said this is probably her last trip to NY. She’ll be 99 in three months. I can certainly understand why.

What do we learn?
At a certain age, change becomes more, then more– difficult.

Doesn’t that help explain why adult children’s insistence that older parents move out of their home for assisted/independent living or whatever, (when it’s not absolutely necessary because neither their life nor limb is threatened), often has dire consequences–because parents can’t make the effort to adjust?

It also seems to me that being more alert and receptive to problem solving is easier–especially for older people–in the morning when they’re fresh, as opposed to the evening when fatigue has set in.

Lastly, we can’t anticipate every glitch in our best laid plans as we try to help aging parents. Other thoughts?

2 thoughts on “98-year-old Mother-in-law’s Visit–continued

  1. Your dual point about 1)the inability to adapt to too much change after a point and 2)the lack of desire or will to do so after a point is well taken. That was exactly why we resisted the idea of assisted living for my dad even after he began to wander. He had already lost my mother (the biggest loss); we had to insist he stop driving (actually, the car battery died and we resisted replacing it); he knew he was getting forgetful. He was aware of his losses and limitations. I was not about to increase those losses by taking away his home and his freedom to go out when he felt like it and eat whatever and whenever he wanted.
    You couldn’t have known about the heavy hotel room door; even of you had, there would have been something else, because there’s ALWAYS something else in an unfamiliar environment.
    Your mother-in-law sounds like an amazingly sensible woman and you and your husband respect her personal independence and give her support. That is the best of all possible worlds, even though it doesn’t work out perfectly all the time.

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