By Tom Blake
Often, as seniors age, a new and unexpected challenge can arise: caregiving. It could be for a spouse, significant other, sibling or an elderly parent.
Last week, Mick, a friend of mine for 43 years, emailed asking for advice. Mick and I worked together at the Victoria Station restaurant chain in the 1970s.
Mick wrote, “This winter, Emma, my 90-year-old mother, tripped and fell in the chicken house at her farm in West Bend, Wisconsin and suffered a concussion. That fall—and one too many cold winters—finally changed her mind about living alone. She has decided to take me up on my longstanding offer to move to Texas to be near me.
I decided my mother deserved a better fate than to be parked in an institutional setting. I bought a house that is big enough and has the right floor plan to permit us to be housemates, but we still have a healthy measure of separation and privacy. There is enough room to permit live-in help.
I am apprehensive. She and I are fiercely independent and have each lived alone for many years. But, we have committed to give this a try.
I have a new, wonderful lady named Mary Ann, age 61, in my life who lives a short drive away. So, I will get time away from Emma. Mary Ann is totally on board with Emma moving in with me.
The challenges to this arrangement are obvious. My immediate concerns are:
- Her loneliness. Emma will be leaving behind her social network and initially will be totally dependent on me for conversation and emotional support. How do I help her develop a cadre of new buddies here to ease that burden?
- Her isolation. My mother has agreed to give up her car and will not be driving, but I want her to get out and enjoy all that this area has to offer. Which transportation alternatives are safe and reliable?
- My sadness. I think of my mother as a strong, vibrant woman with a bit of a temper and a lot of spunk. She still shovels snow and chops her own firewood.
But as she ages, she is beginning to show signs of frailty and loss of cognitive skills. This week, she walked into a glass partition at her Wisconsin bank, fell and severely broke her leg. Fortunately, no hip replacement is needed, but she will have a rod and screws installed to put her femur back together.
How do I prepare myself to be strong but remain considerate and loving?”
I asked my eNewsletter subscribers for their opinions. Six responses follow:
Joyce emailed, “I am 81 and still work as a ‘caregiver/companion’ to clients over 90. I take them shopping, to doctor and dentist appointments; sometimes I shop for them.”
Arlene, “I think Mick is setting himself up for major stress by having his mom live by him. Care facilities are equipped to handle frail, elderly people. The strain on one’s health takes its toll on caregivers. I’ve seen it many times. Although an admirable endeavor, I think he needs to rethink his choices.”
Susan, “Mick may need some logistical and emotional support. It sounds like his new partner, Mary Ann, can offer some of that. He may also need to contact a caregiver support agency that can advise him.”
Joanie, “Mick can hire someone to come in two or three days a week to be a companion and to take her shopping. He is a good son!”
Kaitte, “With Emma’s recent fall, everything could change for Mick. He could hire a live-in for her in Wisconsin. Maybe a family member, even a grandchild? Or, a church friend?
Having been a caretaker, I know it’s best to keep the elderly in their own home if possible.”
Julie wrote, “Some public transportation systems provide door-to-door service for the elderly at a very reasonable price.”
Tom’s comment to Mick
It will be interesting to hear if Emma’s recent fall will affect your decision of having her move from another state to be with you. She will likely be in a wheelchair or walker for a couple of months or more, which will add a strain on you and will complicate her getting out and making friends.
Try to keep in mind the importance of you maintaining your health so you can focus on hers. Knowing you, you will handle the situation with grace and dignity.
Tom Blake is a Dana Point resident and a former Dana Point businessman who has authored several books on middle-aged dating. See his websites www.findingloveafter50.com; www.vicsta.com and www.travelafter55.com. To receive Tom’s weekly online newsletter, sign up at www.findingloveafter50.com. Email: email@example.com.