Wednesday, November 22, 2017
One of the many things that I am thankful for is the assistance of kind and patient individuals who have helped my mother and father for more than five years, as age-related issues make my parents' lives more challenging. On the top of my list is my sister -- who is a constant, loving presence -- and who makes it all possible. She tolerates my jet-fueled attempts to help on my drop-in visits to Arizona from Pennsylvania.
Our father was at home with progressing dementia for more than two years before it became necessary to find a dementia-care living center that could provide a safer setting. For most of that time, we had 24/7 assistance in the home -- and we still have help now for our mother at home.
But, it just become too hard for Dad at home, especially as the multilevel, 90-year old house was full of traps for his unsteady steps. Mom participated in the search for a better setting. When the time came, she made the ultimate decision about where and when. While the transition was anything but easy, with every passing day we knew more clearly it was the right decision.
On good days, Dad would declare to anyone who was passing, "this is a very good place." He was usually sitting on his favorite bench in the center courtyard, holding "court" with everyone who walked by on the five acre campus. (On a bad day, he might ask rather insistently for a cigarette, something he hadn't done in 50 years!).
My sister and I came to revel in the holiday parties organized by the caring staff. We knew the parties would be festive, with great food and often with music and dancing, and that extended families would join together. One holiday, another visiting son who looked about my age, asked my name and it turned out we had attended high school together, not far down the road. A modern way to hold a "high school reunion," right?
Dad's center was entirely devoted to residents with dementia, with or without additional physical disabilities. Once a resident was admitted, and as long as they did not need certain types of skilled medical care (such as IVs), the Center could be their home until the last days. I'm still in touch with members of the staff who helped my Dad, and I think of all of them with fondness and gratefulness.
Each year we celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving meal at Dad's center (usually a few days before the actual holiday) as a big group. On Dad's last Thanksgiving, in 2016, families gathered on the covered porches of each of the four cottages in the community. It was a typically warm -- but also an atypically rainy -- November day in Phoenix.
A key to the success at Dad's center is a setting that facilitates behavioral approaches to dementia care, rather than drugs or restraints. The 48 residents -- 12 per cottage -- have free run of the secure campus, and in Dad's case he used every inch. His walking grew stronger in the early days after his admission (even with his "bad" knee), while the agitation and anger he had while at home eased significantly. For the first time in more than a decade, his blood pressure stabilized and we soon realized even his hearing and vision improved.
Dad was at the center just a week shy of three years, passing at age 91. Of course, after the initial improvement in strength with his regular walking, his fragility over the years increased slowly, but he was still out and about until his last two weeks. Two of his former judicial law clerks visited Dad close to Thanksgiving last year. Such kindness from everyone.
I commented near the end of Dad's time at the center, while chatting with the Director, that perhaps some of the residents might enjoy having more "reasons" to walk. I suggested the possibility of a mail box, where residents could collect or deliver cards and letters, both real and "created" especially for the holiday.
This is a community that welcomes suggestions -- and doesn't ignore them -- and thus I was pleased but not really surprised to get an email this week from the Director. Dad passed away some 10 months ago, but the staff nonetheless took action -- installing an old-fashioned mailbox outside each cottage, with decorations to help residents identify their home spot. I hear deliveries are made regularly -- even on holidays! I like to think how much Dad would have enjoyed being part of the postal delivery.
My thanks to everyone who is part of a care-giving team. You mean so much to all of us. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and your families!