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Finding a Healthy Home in Memory Care

in Alzheimer's & Dementia

Moving Mom to a Senior Living community was the best decision for her health and wellbeing.

Note: As part of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, we are profiling three individuals that have experienced the difficult decision to move Mom or Dad into a Senior Living community that specializes in Memory Care. These are their personal stories shared with the intention of increasing awareness of cognitive disorders and learning from their own experiences. This loved one does not reside in a Spectrum Retirement Community.

 

John B. Holcomb, MD, FACS, a retired Army Colonel and medical doctor, knew the day would come when his mother would need to move out of her Arkansas home, where she had lived since 1970, to a safer environment.

He knew Alzheimer’s disease progresses slowly. He also knew that at some point, cognition declines to the extent that it isn’t safe for the person with Alzheimer’s to live alone. Before long, it would be time for moving Mom to a Senior Living community.

That time came for Dr. Holcomb’s mother about two years ago. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016, at age 81, his mom had lived alone in the family home without issue. She played bridge with friends and drove around town, mainly to the bank and to the grocery store.

With Dr. Holcomb in Houston and his brother in Florida, they didn’t get to visit their mother as often as they wanted, but they checked in with her regularly. A couple of years ago, they noticed some disturbing trends. Her social circle shrank. She stopped playing bridge and watched more TV. She fell for a scam that cost her some money. All this was atypical for mom, and a red flag for her family.

“As a physician, I care for trauma patients, including a lot of patients who fall,” says Dr. Holcomb. “I knew living alone was becoming dangerous for my mom. But going through this personally with my brother and my mom was still very difficult.”

The stress of not being nearby and constantly worrying about their mom started to wear on the brothers. They discussed moving Mom to a Senior Living community, which as expected, was met with some resistance. Their mother did not want to leave her home, her car, her friends — everything she loved about her life in Arkansas. Not many older adults do. According to 2018 AARP research, 77 percent of adults age 50 and over want to remain in their current home as they age as long as possible. However, only 59 percent thought they actually could.

To make the best decision for their mother, the two brothers sought the expert advice of her medical doctor and Senior Living experts. As they suspected, a move to Senior Living was suggested — this was the best decision for her health and wellbeing – and could lead to a very positive turnaround in some of her new behaviors, such as socially isolating herself.

 

Choosing a Community with a Memory Care Neighborhood

Dr. Holcomb visited multiple Senior Living communities in the Houston area. His top three priorities: friendly staff, top-notch security, and a comfortable atmosphere.

“Mom likes to walk,” he says. “The facility we chose had one entrance and exit, which helped ensure she wouldn’t wander unnoticed.”

Skilled, attentive staff and a welcoming environment helped Dr. Holcomb narrow his decision. “The community we chose has modern colors, wide isles, and a warm, inviting atmosphere,” he says. “And it’s two miles from my home, which is a big advantage and allowed me to see her in person more regularly.”

From a care standpoint, it was important to Dr. Holcomb that the community offer Assisted Living and Memory Care so his mom could transition in place if she were to decline cognitively. A specific Memory Care neighborhood was important, as this dedicated area and care team is the safest, most impactful environment for someone suffering from dementia.

 

Making the Move a Positive One

While visiting possible Senior Living communities, Dr. Holcomb asked for advice on how to move someone who doesn’t want to move. The directors all gave him similar advice: use her regular Christmas visit to Houston as an opportunity for change. While his mom prepared for her trip, Dr. Holcomb and his brother made plans to move her belongings. While she was in Houston, Dr. Holcomb’s brother packed up her belongings and moved them via U-Haul to her home-to-be.

With furniture in place and pictures on the walls, they showed their mother her new beautiful apartment. “We told her, ‘this is your new home, close by to me, and she said ‘okay’,” Dr. Holcomb says.

While they had expected worse, their preparations and positive interactions regarding the move helped their mom to happily embrace the change. While they knew there could be an adjustment period, she, fortunately, settled right in. “It was a huge relief for all of us,” he says. “She never said so, but I think it was for her as well.”

Very quickly, she made a new group of friends, resumed playing bridge, and even found a boyfriend. Dr. Holcomb visited several times a week and brought her over for dinner with his family.

 

Advice for Caregivers

Because Dr. Holcomb’s mother had helped her own parents later in life, she knew the importance of putting the proper paperwork in place. A decade before her sons would need it, she set up a durable power of attorney (POA) which named them authorized agents. The brothers could not have moved her 450 miles and into a Senior Living community without it.

“We sold my mom’s house, her car, and held an estate sale,” Dr. Holcomb says. “We took care of all the financial arrangements. The POA was critical. This an incredible message for all families to have that POA and draft it while the parents are still cognizant.”

Dr. Holcomb also encourages others to have open conversations about safety and what the risks are of living alone with any form of dementia. What if the oven was left on? What if you forgot to make the right turn home? These are conversations that can be started at the first sign of dementia. Waiting until the last minute isn’t going to do anyone any favors.

Today, the Holcombs still have dinner together often, and Dr. Holcomb visits his mom as often as he can. She’s physically healthy — Dr. Holcomb says she takes no medications and never has — and most importantly, she’s safe and happy.

“The angst that we felt around moving Mom against her will was substantial,” he says. “But it was the right thing to do. Everyone advised us to not wait; they said we’d be happy we did it. They were right.”

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