Moving my mother into assisted living

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Jill Joseph

Beacon advertising representative Jill Joseph helped her mother, Bunny Loughran, choose and transition to a local assisted living community.
Photo by Andy Coutts.

If I could pick one word to describe my mother, it would be “independent.” But as she has aged, chronic orthopedic issues and COPD slowly claimed her ability to move comfortably.

We recently made the difficult decision that the best living situation for her is in an assisted living community. This is the story of how she found her new home.

While I have always stood by, ready to help in any way I could, it was only after my mom had a mild stroke in 2013 that she and my stepdad began to accept my offers of assistance.

When her back surgery in April 2014 resulted in multiple nerve issues, her mobility decreased even more. Mom then began to drag her right foot, and I became very concerned about her safety.

Her gait was unbalanced, and she was having trouble navigating the tight spaces in the house. I suggested we hire a home care service to assist her, but she rebuffed the idea.

Through my work at the Beacon, I’ve become acquainted with many committed people who serve seniors. The friends I’ve made in the industry all testify that most people won’t get the help they need until “Something” happens. And, indeed, something happened. My mother fell and broke her hip.

During post-surgery rehab, Mom was adamant that she intended to return home. I was equally adamant that — if she was not able to walk safely and consistently — her home was unsafe.

A change of plans

At first, she began tomake enough progress in therapy to make her move back home seem feasible, if not ideal in my eyes, and we were given a discharge date. Then her progress stalled, and the therapy team revised the recommendation: She would need assistance during all waking hours.

Unfortunately, my stepdad is not physically strong enough to help her move, and I knew I would need to help her and hire a home healthcare aide for times I could not be there. [For more on this subject, see “Finding caregivers to help you at home,” on page B8.]

I originally focused on keeping mom in her home and didn’t consider assisted living options. But it turned out that staying in her home would quickly become detrimental — to all of us: My mom was readmitted to the hospital Sunday morning, not even two days after coming home.

The hours before that were exhausting for both of us, emotionally and physically. At times over the weekend, she was incapable of moving her legs and feet, and was clearly terrified of falling in her tricky home environment. I was scared she would get hurt on my watch.

Tearfully, I told her, “I can’t do this by myself.” I also couldn’t help but think of the impact on my own life. I have a wonderful husband and work for very understanding employers, but meeting Mom’s needs in her home would require time and focus, depleting my energy for work and a life of my own.

Minutes before her aide arrived Sunday morning, I heard my mother moaning in her bedroom. She was unable to communicate what was wrong, and could or would not cooperate when I tried to get her out of bed. I called 911 shortly after our aide arrived.

This time, my mother and stepdad both agreed that coming home after her hospitalization and rehab stay was not an option. I contacted Care Patrol, a senior housing referral agency, which gathered information on Mom’s health, financial and location needs. This tremendously streamlined the process of finding assisted living.

Choosing the right place

There were several factors I knew would be important to my mother — a private space, wheelchair transportation and good meals. Because she is mostly wheelchair-bound and incontinent, she needed a community offering Level 3 assisted living, so some local options were eliminated.

There were also factors that were important to me. I wanted a non-institutional environment for Mom, and an activity schedule to help her meet people and engage more in life. Though the final choice was obviously hers, I knew my enthusiasm for Brightview in Baltimore affected her decision to move there.

Fortunately, she and my stepdad were able to spend some time there prior to her move. We visited as a family, met the staff, had lunch, and she chose the studio apartment in which she would live. It helped dissipate her nerves and sadness about living without my stepfather. Overall, though, her attitude was positive.

We are still in the early stages of Mom adjusting to life in assisted living. My husband and I have spent a lot of time giving her apartment a home-like feel, and my stepdad is comfortable during his daily visits.

There are some staff members Mom enjoys greatly and some she doesn’t particularly care for, but that is the case for other residents as well, and no doubt for those in other communities, too. I try to help her put things in perspective and encourage her to speak up when she has needs that aren’t being met.

She also participates in activities at Brightview, such as bingo, “happy hours,” and some of their exercise classes. She even bought a bathing suit in preparation for bus trips to the local YMCA.

Mom has always liked to stay in her comfort zone, which has gotten smaller and smaller over the years. But I am hopeful that with time she will find a better quality of life in her new environment.

And although I am still struggling with some guilt about being unable to help her remain in her home, I certainly sleep better knowing she is safe.

Jill Joseph is a Beacon advertising representative.