Monday, December 22, 2008

The Continuing Struggle to Parent a Parent

I am grateful that our experience with a Manor Care facility was so different from that which our North Carolina neighbor is experiencing. When my mother was getting ready to be transferred from Ocean Beach Hospital (where I was unhappy with her care) to Manor Care, Gig Harbor, the nurses emphasized the importance of my going to the facility on a regular basis which is one of the reasons we chose Manor Care in the first place. It was closer to us. Her ambulance ride the 150 miles from Ocean Beach hospital to Manor Care in Gig Harbor ended up being more than $2,000, but would have been worth every penny even if Medicare and insurance had not largely paid for it.

As an only child I don’t have siblings to help shoulder the responsibilities of my aging mother and can feel helpless at times witness our current weather situation and the fact that my mother fell twice on Saturday. My husband has enough brothers that they have committees! If you have an aging parent who doesn’t live nearby getting support for both of you is extremely important. I have had to ask questions and mine out the little services that make my mother’s life and therefore my life easier.

If you live at long distance with a parent in a care facility it is best if there is a sibling or cousin who can look in on your parent on a regular basis. Patients with family, or friends acting as family, who pay attention to the care they are receiving get better care no matter how good or bad the facility is. I was at Manor Care everyday, sometimes oftener, and my kids visited, too. I took my mother’s laundry home to wash so things would not go missing. This level of attention was exhausting when tacked onto what I do each day as a working mother of an adult daughter with special needs, but it was worth it since it was only for six weeks and not forever. That level of attention would have been difficult to maintain long term and would have required me leaning more heavily on my children. Lastly, if you have concerns about the care a loved one is receiving; contact the facility’s social worker. We found the folks in that office at Manor Care to be extremely helpful in creating a plan to get my mother ready to return to her normal life. A phone call is clearly not the same thing as being on scene, but it will demonstrate that someone is paying attention to how things are going for the patient.

I felt that the staff at Manor Care, Gig Harbor was wonderful. I met no one who did not seem concerned and committed to helping my mother be able to return to living as independently as possible since she’s resistant to assisted living at this time. As a Special Education educator and parent I know the importance of least restrictive environment, but I also know how difficult it is to look after a parent from far away. We are constantly finding bumps in the road that have to be dealt with. Just this weekend my mother fell twice in one day. We are in the midst of a snow storm here in the NW and it is impossible for me to get there or I would have already brought her here for Christmas. Fortunately, in the Spring I got her a Senior Security System and it has been invaluable as she’s gone through two serious infections that she had not reported to anyone until too sick to walk properly and a few simple falls from which she could not get up.

Before I committed to Senior Security I did a little investigating on the Internet. We’ve all seen the Life Alert commercials (“I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”) on television, but I read some poor reviews of that company and warnings to find one that would not lock you into a long term contract. Although we hope our loved one will need the service for years and years the fact is that if you’re looking for a medical security system it is possible that you will lose that family member and don’t want to be left paying on a contract for a system no longer needed.

When my mother returned to her apartment from her hospitalization in June she came with more medications than she was accustomed to taking. She also seemed a little more frail and confused as a result of the staph infection she’d survived. Because it was summer and I was off from work and staying at our nearby summer home I was able to dole out her medications and get her back on her feet. I knew that if she were to stay in her own apartment that we needed a way for her to take medications without getting confused so I purchased enough pill strips to fill and do her between my visits which generally speaking are every two weeks during the school year.

In September my mother felt fit enough and competent enough to fill her own pill strips and was very proud of this accomplishment. This points out how difficult it is for people to lose control over their lives. This small achievement made her so happy and pleased me because I believed it to be proof that she was returning to her old self. Shortly after this my mother developed a serious urinary infection which resulted in a high temperature and confusion. Fortunately, because I have a cousin nearby whom Senior Security contacted when I could not be reached at school, who went over and realized that my mother’s falling was something more than clumsiness. We got her to consent to going to the hospital where she spent another week and then needed the rehabilitation at Manor Care.

When my mother’s rehabilitation at Manor Care was over and I returned her to her apartment in Ilwaco I discovered that the medications in her pill strips were not correct. Bump in the road. She had not achieved all that she thought. Knowing that my visits are sometimes less regular during the Winter due to storms and ice, I became concerned about her taking medications. That is when I learned that the pharmacy in her community will blister pack medications for the elderly for a mere $4 per month! I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders and I realized that neither my mother nor I would have to be responsible for making sure she took the correct dosage.

Equipment for the elderly has been another bump in the road to independence. I am still learning what is and what is not paid for by Medicare. My mother came home from Manor Care with a lovely walker, much better than one a neighbor had given her and paid for by Medicare, but they don’t pay for shower chairs. The social worker at Manor Care had suggested checking Goodwill before spending large amounts of money at Costco or a pharmacy. I’ve found Goodwill to be a wonderful resource for such equipment. In addition there are organizations that recycle equipment at no cost in some communities. If you have a senior assistance center (another invaluable resource for learning about prescription insurance) in your parent’s community contact them. They will know who does that sort of thing as well as where to get home-health services and a assistance in getting around the community. My most important piece of equipment in caring for my mother is my cell phone. Being able to call her at least once a day is my best way of keeping on top of what is happening with her.

Lastly, to paraphrase Blanche DuBois in Street Car Named Desire, ask for the help of strangers. It is not in my nature to ask for help, but my concern for my mother has crumbled my pride and opened me to blessings I could not have imagined. I still rely largely on myself, but have discovered that the corner grocer will take my mother groceries when the roads are too bad for her to go out or me to get to her. There is an organization in my mother’s community who will shop for her or take her shopping, but if you don’t qualify for Medicaid (which thanks to eight years of poor social services my mother does not) you have to pay $19 per hour, more than my mother can afford on a regular basis. Be creative. Ask questions. If you’re at a long distance contact a senior center or senior assistance office in your parent’s community.

There are still things I don't understand such as why I can receive Care Provider money to care for my special needs child, but my friend in Oregon cannot get the same thing for caring for her father and cannot find a competent provider. The struggle continues on a daily basis.


Lorraine Hart said...

Love makes us able to ask for help. I stand in support...and understanding, my friend.

Mizu Sugimura said...

Very valuable information and insights that really deserve as much publicity as possible.

Coincidentally, I have an idea that was dropped into my lap a few days ago called the Six Random Facts Meme.

Go to my last posting at for the gritty details.

The SRFM is basically a vehicle with the intent to help generate a little more notice for our blogs a small handful at a time.

My husband's former boss, now retired, by the name of Anita is writing a blog from a little paradise in the San Juan's called the Thornbush Report.

Read her blog at:

She was originally tagged by her friend Peggy Sue, and Anita then went on to tag me. I'm tagging you.

We were all so lucky to hit if off at the New's Tribune's reader blog
"In Your Neighborhood".

Maybe there's another chance to generate something like it through playing something along the lines of this game.

Anyways, I'm usually good for trying any idea with merit at least once!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Thanks for your support, ladies, and Mizu's good information which now that the craziness of the holidaze is winding down, I may be able to pay close attention to.

My new mission is to encourage the grocers near where my mother lives to offer home delivery. There is a Safeway in Astoria that does not come across the Columbia to serve a large elderly market.

kennyFogert said...

I'm glad you are sharing your story with others in a similar position. Those security systems and medical alert systems can mean a big deal to even seniors who live in assisted living...

Thanks again.