My mother is 87 years old and is experiencing the advanced stages of Parkinson's Disease. Consequently, she has recently moved into a nursing home.
My parents always owned their own house. When my father died in 1996, my mother continued to live alone in the family house for a number of years. Eventually, it became too much for her, she sold the house and moved to an apartment. When it became clear that she was no longer safe living alone she moved again, this time into an assisted living community. There she had her own private efficiency apartment within the larger setting. She is a quiet, private person, shy even, but she seemed to enjoy assisted living. At first it was hard for her to be in a setting with so many other people around. However, she became accustomed to the apartment-based living arrangement and it felt like home to her. She would use her walker to go down to the dining hall for lunch and dinner, but chose to have breakfast alone in her apartment. In the last few years she chose to stay in her apartment more and more, and she no longer participated in the social events that were organized for the participants. She lived a simple life, and she did not socialize much. She has never been a very social person, so her gradual withdrawal seemed fairly normal to the family.
Just before Christmas, she was moved into a nursing home. She could no longer dress herself or go to the bathroom alone. Walking with a walker had become increasingly problematic. She needed more care than she could afford in assisted living, where each assisted task is charged on an individual basis. Although her mind remains sharp, her body has been ravaged. Parkinson’s is a progressive disease. She now needs professional care round the clock. It has become that time of her life we all knew would eventually come, but all tried not to think about it until we had to. It sucks…
I cannot imagine any one wants to move into a nursing home. The loss of privacy represents a loss of dignity. We are a family of limited means. For people like us once a parent’s money has been depleted, and if the children are not wealthy, nursing home care means a shared room and Medicaid. In our capitalist society you get what you pay for. I have no illusions about it being any different when I am old and infirm. All of her social security and small pension now go the nursing home. The difference between her fixed income and the total cost of nursing care and medication is paid for by Medicaid. Theoretically she gets to keep a little over $50 per month from the income stream. Beyond that her children pay for her telephone, newspaper, and getting her hair done. We try to pick up or send her cookies, pretzels, and hard candy for her room. Her roommate does not even have a television, so my mother shares hers with the roommate. It seems like a nice place in many ways, it is clean, the food is good, the aides are kindly, and the nurses are competent. Still, the economics are such that places like this are routinely understaffed. Waiting for help with basic needs is the norm. Betty Davis once said “Growing old ain’t for sissies!” Too true. Under these circumstances elderly people are heroic, striving to derive pleasure and joy when they can. If the food is prepared well and tastes good, they all talk about it. If they watch sports and their team wins, they are thrilled. If a family member or old friends comes to visit, they appreciate it. A card in the mail screams “Someone cares about you!” Every kindness is treasured.
Apparently when the elderly get urinary tract infections (UTI) they can become confused and agitated, very much like dementia. The confusion goes away after a few days of antibiotics. It is apparently a common phenomenon in a nursing facility. This happened to my sweet Mother last week, in the first month of her stay at the nursing home. Mom has not displayed dementia previously, except for a short-term incident about 8 years ago related to and following major surgery. So we were concerned last week when her caregiver, our sister ERB, stopped by to see her after work and found her to be a bit out of touch with reality. Mom insisted certain things happened that did not happen and was seeing and talking to people who were not there. When ERB reported it to the nurse, the nurse said it was likely a UTI and she would have the doctor check it out. Sure enough, that is what she has. However, today is day 4 of the antibiotic and she is still slipping in and out of reality. Disturbing. In the words of my sister ERB, “I want my Mom back.”