Moving Mom to Memory Care can be the hardest thing to do. But, as we learned from one daughter, it’s often the best thing to do.
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 resides in a Spectrum Retirement Community.
Pam Bishop describes her mom, Ruth, as a “tiny little person.” What she lacks in stature, she makes up for with her larger-than-life personality. Bishop remembers in her youth viewing her mom as fiercely independent. “She’s always had this self-sufficiency about her.” Ruth, an accomplished seamstress (and perfectionist, according to Bishop) found her place in the community, sharing those skills for years. “She got involved with the local theater company where we grew up and served as a costume maker for years,” she says. “Later in life, she taught sewing at a senior center.”
When not sewing, Ruth was in the garden, spending hours in their yard on hands and knees, weeding, trimming, and transplanting. Little did the family know, this regular and beloved hobby would instigate a decision to move Mom to Memory Care.
The Incident that Prompted a Serious Discussion
Bishop explains that her mom’s condition was slow to progress. “She started showing signs, dementia symptoms, about ten years ago but it was manageable for a long time,” she says. But Bishop admits that even with weekly visits and phone calls a few times a week, she didn’t realize the dementia was farther along than they had suspected.
Several years ago, Bishop’s dad had a fall—serious enough to require an emergency room visit. “Dad kept telling her [Ruth] not to call anyone, and Mom listened. The old Mom would have ignored him saying, ‘Of course I’m going to call somebody!’ She didn’t call me until the next morning,” Bishop says. By that time, Bishop’s father had been lying on the floor for nearly 14 hours.
Over the next year, “it got to the point where she was wandering, she was falling, she stopped taking her high blood pressure medication, she was incontinent, her eating habits were changing, she was sundowning,” explains Bishop.
That’s when Bishop knew it was time to have a talk with her dad.
The Two-Year-Long Decision
Bishop was hesitant to push for a move to a Senior Living community because her dad was so resistant. “We couldn’t get my dad to even consider moving,” she says. “He just kept saying, ‘We’re not doing it; we’re not moving to a nursing home; we’re not ready for this.’ He would close his eyes and shut down, saying, ‘I can’t think about this; I won’t think about this.’”
Knowing that the time would come to move Mom to memory care, Bishop took action early. “For our own peace of mind, we started visiting Memory Care and Assisted Living communities. We put down payments at a couple of different places just so, in an emergency, we wouldn’t be at the bottom of the list,” says Bishop.
When looking for a Memory Care neighborhood there were several important factors that played a role in the decision.
“First of all, we wanted to make sure that we liked the staff members, that we felt we could trust them—that they were caring and empathetic,” says Bishops. “Most of the places we went, we found what we were looking for, but some just didn’t have that ‘vibe’ when you walked in.”
Bishop also knew that the overall design of the community would be important to her mom. “She really loves natural light. For years, she’s wintered geraniums inside. We were looking for natural light and, of course, a place with a garden.”
They also wanted a community that offered both Assisted Living and Memory Care on campus so her parents could be together in the same place and if Ruth eventually needed to move into Memory Care, she’d still be nearby. “That’s why Hilliard Assisted Living & Memory Care in Hilliard, Ohio, was at the top of our list,” she explains.
It’s Time to Move Mom to Memory Care
“We knew it was going to take a crisis of some sort at which point I would have to say, ‘this is it,’” says Bishop. And that’s what happened, Fourth of July weekend (2020).
Despite the progression of dementia, Ruth continued to find solace gardening. That weekend, Bishop’s dad made lunch and went outside to tell Ruth it was ready and that he was going inside to take a nap. Ruth, down on her hands and knees, working in the yard, didn’t hear him. “We constantly told her not to go down on her hands and knees, because she couldn’t get up and Dad couldn’t get her up,” says Bishop. “Luckily, it was a day that I was coming for my visit. It was about 85-degrees. She had on long johns (because she didn’t know how to dress correctly anymore) under her jeans and a long-sleeve jacket. She’d been on her hands and knees for three hours.” Bishop knew it was time to move Mom to Memory Care.
“It could have been much worse,” she says, “but that’s when I said ‘Daddy, it ends here. It’s no longer your decision. You can make the decision about yourself and what you want to do, but you’re no longer in charge of Mom. I am.’ And I told him I was going to move her.”
The next day, Bishop called Hilliard Assisted Living & Memory Care.
An Immediate Impact
“She has adjusted a lot quicker than any of us expected. She’s back to her normal self.” Bishop attributes much of this to her mom now having the structure that she so desperately needed. “When she was home, Dad thought that he was doing the right thing by letting her do what she wanted. She’d wander from one thing to the next and she always felt like she was supposed to be doing something, but she didn’t know what it was, so she was in a constant state of worry. I’d asked her ‘What’d you do today, Mommy?’ She’d look really worried and say, ‘I have no idea.’”
During Bishop’s most recent visit to Hilliard, she asked her mom the same question. Ruth’s reply: “Everybody takes such good care of me. I’m so busy all the time; they don’t give me a moment to rest.”
“She looks peaceful now,” says Bishop with a smile in her voice. “She’s content now.”
The Before and After
Before moving Mom to Memory Care, Bishop existed in a nervous limbo. “We spent two years wondering ‘What’s it going to be? Is it going to be a fall, an illness, is someone going to die? What is it that’s going to happen that’s going to suddenly plunge us into having to fix it?’ Now, not having that hanging over our heads, we feel like we can move forward with living our own lives a little bit more. I feel like I’ve lived up to my responsibility as a daughter.”
One of the biggest stressors before the move was her dad’s resistance, knowing that the longer he resisted the more time the disease would progress unchecked. Now, when she gives him updates on how well Ruth is doing and the excellent care she’s receiving, he agrees it was the right thing to do. “Dad went through a period of mourning and he’s still sad sometimes, but he realizes how much care it takes—all the things he couldn’t do and shouldn’t be expected to at the age of ninety-eight. He had no idea of the level of care she needed. He realizes that this was a decision that had to be made. He just couldn’t do it. He’s grateful that I did.”
Advice for Moving Mom to Memory Care
“I’m not going to lie,” admits Bishop. “The day I moved her was the worst day of my life. But we always knew it was the right thing.”
Make decisions before “the final decision”
From the time they realized a move was inevitable to the time it happened was nearly two years. During that time, Bishop made it a point to visit several Memory Care communities, narrowing down the choices. “Putting down a down payment to reserve a space was a huge comfort,” she said. “Once I made the decision [to move Ruth], it was simply a list of tasks that had to be done.”
Trust the professionals
“Trust the people who do this for a living.” Hilliard Assisted Living & Memory Care team members are not only experts at caring for people with dementia but are also experts at helping family members adjust and feel at ease. Bishop says she has “billions” of questions “but they take the time to call me back and are really patient.” They’ve helped Bishop establish a routine, as well.
Brace yourself for resistance
Resistance from a parent to move to any type of Retirement Community is not uncommon. But, as in Bishop’s case, when both parents still live together one parent may never make a decision. Bishop’s advice is to be prepared to take the decision away and make it yourself. “You have to believe that you’re doing the right thing for your parents. You learn that you have the strength to make those decisions in life when you do it with love.”