Aging in Place: Plans May Be Possible… or Not

For as long as I can remember, my parents planned to age in place in their home. They made me promise to support them in this endeavor, and I did. They understood initially that some situations — severe illness or extreme memory problems, for instance — might require their plans to be changed. But as time passed and they aged into their 90s they focused on the aging at home part and swept other possibilities our of their minds.

When people age in place they live in their homes and support services — caregivers, medication aids, and others — come to them as needed. In my parents case we had several individuals who came in for various tasks and home health aides who eventually needed to be scheduled around the clock, after my father had a heart attack. Some incredible people provided care to my parents in their home, but mom and dad could not get used to always having someone around. They grumbled about not having enough privacy. And at night when my dad would wake up, he could not reccognize the individual who was sitting in the living room, and sometimes he reacted with hostility. For several months we tried to make it work.

Unfortunately, aging in place wasn’t working well.

The next option was assisted living. Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC), where my parents lived, offers small communities with one and two room apartments, ten of them around a large commons area where there were separate spaces for dining, television viewing, scheduled activities, and reading, Residents have privacy in their apartments, and assistants always knock to be admitted. As in most assisted living communities there is a tier of services offered, depending on the health needs of the resident. Both of my parents, except at the very end of their lives, remained on tier one, needing very little additional care.

At VMRC, the assisted living section is never — EVER — referred to as a facility. It is a community and the people who live there are residents. The aides in the community have three basic responsibilities — ensure that residents get their medications, remind them about meals and activities, and keep a non-invasive eye on those ten apartments to ensure everything is fine. Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community had six assisted living communities. The aides were remarkable.

One reads about all of the potential problems that a family must be aware of when a relative moves into assisted living. VMRC had none of those issues.

Of course my parents did not want to move, but they needed the structure offered by residing in an assisted living community, and their apartment would be allow privacy most of the time. Dad’s memory was so weak, and he could not do much without my mother’s assistance. Again, the situatio involved many conversations, and many decisions about what to move and what to dispose of in some way. I spoke to Mom about dad’s memory and the possibility of his needing assisted living without her. I spoke to Dad about mom’s tendency to fall. Mom, especially, responded most of the time about her desire to age in place

They finally agreed to move, but they were not happy. Along with driving, this is one of the most difficult conversations for an adult child to have with their elderly parents.

Moving their possessions was challenging. The new apartment in the Crestwood community was small, and choosing what items to move was impossible for them. Thus it was left to my husband and me to decide what they would like to take with them, and just to be sure, after their move I took a fair amount of possessions that they might have wanted to my basement.

My parents eventually settled in, and as my dad’s memory worsened my mother even commented that she was glad that they lived where they did so that if something happened to her, dad would be in a friendly, respectful, and helpful living situation. As it turned out, Mom did pass away before dad, and he, despite his memory continuing to decline, was able to remain in the Crestwood community for two amazingly stable years after my mother died.

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