A Caregiver’s Journey

in Health & Wellness

A real-life account of one grandson’s big adjustment.

It’s a typical fall day in Colorado, bright and crisp, as I walk into the reception area of HighPointe Assisted Living & Memory Care. The same music that was piping outside in the parking lot plays softly in the background. Johnny Cash croons about falling into a burning ring of fire.

From behind the winding reception counter, I’m greeted with a smile. “Who are you here to see?”

I sign in and wonder how odd it sounds when I tell her I’m not actually there to visit a resident. I’ve made arrangements to meet Ann Higday’s grandson for an interview.

“Oh, yes, Brian. He’s with Ann up in her apartment. They should be here soon,” she says.

I settle into a comfy chair and admire the festive Halloween decorations all around.

“Here come Ann and Brian,” says the receptionist. She gestures for me to walk through an entryway into a separate area. The quaint little bistro is warm and inviting. So is the smile from Brian as he helps his grandmother maneuver her walker to a chair, making sure she supports herself using both armrests while she settles into an over-stuffed, wingback. Her white hair is styled with smart wavy curls for our interview.

Brian — sporting an oxford and khaki slacks, straight from work as is his routine almost every day — settles across from me as I setup my recorder.

“Uh-oh, here comes Mary.” An employee stands at the elevator with a huge balloon bouquet. “She’s always causing trouble,” he teases.

“Big birthday,” smiles Mary, nodding toward the resident beside her.

And So We Begin

“When did you first realize you would soon be taking on the role as caregiver,” I ask.

Brian, who instantly comes off as open, warm and caring starts by explaining, “She was going to stay with me for a couple weeks.” That was Ann’s expected recovery time after having an angiosarcoma removed from the back of her head. But as it can happen with cancer, things didn’t go according to plan. Delays during radiation treatment and other minor complications, turned two weeks into two months.

Brian remembers that he began noticing some signs of cognitive decline. “It was apparent at that time that she couldn’t go back to being on her own.”

Making a Transition

Ann made a new home with Brian and his wife — who he repeatedly calls “a saint.” After almost two years they began to notice Ann’s activity levels tapering off and an overall lack of energy. Brian began to wonder if “being around people her own age — people other than me and my wife and my dogs — would be helpful for her.”

Brian knew he was facing a tough decision. With a hitched voice and tears clouding his blue-green eyes he laments, “You know you’re doing the right thing for them. [All the reading and research] gives you some insight. It maybe prepares you intellectually. But when you actually have to go through it, you’re never totally prepared.”

Two things ultimately contributed to Brian’s decision to consider Assisted Living. The first was the desire to see his grandmother become active again. “I was hoping that by being around a lot of activities, she would re-engage.” He gestures around the bright and stylish seating area that buzzes with a quiet energy.

The second was when he admitted to himself the reality of the situation. “What finally convinced me was that there’s really no hope for a cure — it’s going to get worse. But you want what’s best for them. You want them to enjoy whatever time they have left,” he explains.

Devising a Plan

Brian spent hours on the Internet researching different types of elder-care. Eventually, he selected a handful of retirement communities that looked promising online.

After visiting 10 to 12 locations, some multiple times, he narrowed it down to a couple different Spectrum Retirement communities, both of which have an Assisted Living and Memory Care community at the same location — so there would be no more change. The change in environment [to his home] was hard enough, and every time gets harder as things progress.

Before committing, he and Ann visited HighPointe about a half dozen times. Based on the conversations and feedback he’d received from “Nana” over the years Brian “wanted to let her interact — have lunch, play a game, spend time here — and watch the non-verbal cues to see if she was comfortable.” And then one day it just “felt right.”

That still didn’t make it any easier.

I asked Brian what was most difficult (here’s the second time in the interview where mutual tears were shed). “You don’t want to strip anything away. With every change to their lifestyle, you feel like you’re taking a little piece of their dignity away.”

Making a New Home

When Ann first moved into HighPointe, Brian asked her to give it a month. “She’s pretty fussy about who she lets help her.” He didn’t want to hear from Nana after the first night “I don’t like it. I want to come home.” That was back in June 2016, and he hasn’t heard the words uttered yet.

I asked Ann if there was one thing, in particular, that helped with her decision to choose HighPointe. “I just like it,” she answered. Brian, flashing a wide grin, elaborates, “She has friends here.” With a sense of relief, he shares that Ann is as active as she can be, regularly participating in the variety of games and activities offered to the residents. “When she was living with us, I felt like that was a piece she was missing.”

He still nurtures with the same support he provided during the two years — did I mention he visits Ann regularly? — yet, “It’s a big relief for me and my wife to know that if something were to happen she’s got somebody looking out for her.”

“And, she’s very happy with the food,” he adds. “They do a nice job of changing up the menu.” As if on cue, the subtle scent of home cooking wafted by — dinner preparations were underway.

As we said our goodbyes, I told Ann that I think she’s very fortunate to have such a wonderful grandson. She glanced at Brian then nodded knowingly as they walked down the hallway to go play Bingo together.