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?

Rehab, Respite, Short-Term Care, Hospitals=Loss of Control

Why Rational, Agreeable Aging Parents Can Turn Grumpy:
4 Insights

My dad was extraordinarily independent.  I knew that; but I didn’t know how much he valued his independence until a respite weekend–just three nights and two days– at “the home” was suggested.

My brother (who lived with our father) wanted to go to the beach for the weekend. There was help during the days to cook lunch and dinner and clean up; my brother was there at night and it worked fine.

Dad, a relatively healthy 90-something-year-old at the time, every week visited old friends at “the home” who lived in independent or assisted living.  So you can imagine my brother’s surprise when Dad vehemently rejected the idea, with a never-before-seen emotional outbreak that stunned my brother.
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R is still living at the rehab center, as you know.  No option initially.  She needed to recover and move forward after surgery on her broken hip.  This is her 47th day there; 97-year-old bones don’t recover as fast as younger bones and she accepts this fact.

Looking back over R’s adjustment, I believe I understand my Dad’s emotional refusal and my mother-in-law’s initial feelings.  Thus I want to share insights that are no doubt common for aging parents who value their independence and probably for most older people in general.

  • Older people take pride in being independent.  It sets them above the stereotype.  It raises self-esteem and confirms capability.
  • Older people don’t welcome change; they’re usually more comfortable and confident in known surroundings.
  • When they must go to an institutional structure (unfamiliar routines and rules) they must adapt, which isn’t always easy.
  • Think: putting your child in kindergarten the first day.  New people, new expectations, and to be successful adapting to the regimen and beginning to make new friends.

Loss of control is scary.  Normally pleasant people can become grumpy and demanding, if not depressed.  Needing to navigate new turf with new ground rules can prove daunting, especially when older people feel helpless and are dependent. As they gain and feel more control (know the nurses, adapt to the routine, understand that it isn’t going to be like home) things do improve. Needless to say, optimistic support from adult children at these times is invaluable.

https://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/04/16/aging-parents-hurtful-puzzling-unwarrented-criticism/ also highlights aging parents’ feelings of control/loss of control and their impact on caring children.

Smart Elders Who Reject Alert Pendants, Thinking They’re Careful and Won’t Fall–Wrong, sadly!

Independence vs. Broken Hip

We try to help parents age well and we’re aware of the statistics.  After 65 the chances of a fall increase; ditto the damage which  increases as people’s bones become more  brittle.  Down the line we realize that many people age, and suddenly look more fragile.

So I write yesterday’s planned post today, from a rehab center where my 97-year-old mother-in-law and a senior advisor, R, is recovering after falling 10 days ago in her home and having surgery to put a pin in her broken hip.

R. (hover over senior advisor tab above for her “bio”), like many older people fortunate to have (as she calls it) “a good brain,” values her independence above all. She took precautions to prevent falling in her home and has never hesitated to gracefully ask for help (your arm) when she feels unsteady.  She never dreamed she would fall in her home and thus, rejected the idea of a pendant that would alert someone she needed help.

The result: she fell in her living room, while walking to the kitchen, having noticed a decorative object on a desk had been moved by her every-other-week cleaning person.  She reached to move it, lost her balance, and grabbed a nearby chair.  But it wasn’t heavy enough to hold her. Both fell on the carpet. The next three hours were spent pulling her body with her arms across the carpet to a telephone; she called a nephew; he called 911.

I share R’s experience to help aging parents and others who live alone and resist “alert button” bracelets or necklaces. While they don’t prevent falls, they do prevent skinned knees from carpet burns, pain, and possible further hip damage from trying to get to a telephone…and worse. And they needn’t be worn all the time.

Indeed, a woman in her mid-80’s who shares an apartment with her son in the northeast, only wears the bracelet when she enters her Florida apartment–where she live alone in the winter.  She says she leaves the bracelet near the door and puts it on the minute she enters that apartment.

While we do our best to help our aging parents, the odds can catch up with even the most smart, independent and remarkable seniors….evident from the older people with broken hips in this rehab center.  We can only try to reduce the damage. Perhaps R’s experience can provide an opening for discussion with older parents who live alone and refuse–or don’t use–those “alarm button” pendants.