There will be bumps in the road for all of us. I use the phrase “bumps in the road” to indicate those learning opportunities , or challenges that are part of the process of being human and growing older. Maybe my personal situation will illustrate this idea.
My 91 year old mother fell on May 1, 2014 cooking her dinner of fish, salad, and green beans. She somehow managed to call me on her cell phone as she lay on the floor. When we discussed her safety previously, she promised to carry that cell phone on her person at all times. It probably saved her life. Plus the fact that she did not knock herself out on the way down and was conscious. Some of you may be familiar with the following scenario: a broken hip, surgery to wire the femur together and insert a rod down the leg, a heart attack on the operating table, a trip to CCU, discharge to rehab for 6 weeks, and eventually back home with 24/7 care.
A bump in the road often shows up when other things are also happening in your life. Like planning a wedding , to happen at your home! Three days before this incident, my son and girlfriend had excitedly called to say that they were having a baby and were going to get married. I offered to host the wedding and reception at our home where we have celebrated other family milestones. Oh and the wedding would be in four weeks on May 24th! In the middle of the hip rehab process my mother was able to attend the wedding and sit in the front row in our backyard and watch her oldest grandson get married.
We can’t stop the bumps in the road, so how can WE make good decisions in our lives so that the bumps are not so exaggerated? The village that I belong to has been looking at this “thinking” and decision making” process for over 7 years. We have come up with some ground truth learned the hard way from other members as well as ourselves.
1. The most important element is to MAKE A PLAN for yourself that reflects your wishes and desires for optimum living. Make sure that the PLAN is able to be executed by yourself or someone who will respect and have the authority and energy and skill set to put your plan in action.
2. DO NOT WAIT FOR AN EMERGENCY (BUMP) to make that plan. Your options and choices in crisis might be diminished or there may in fact be no good choices.
Education is your best defense against a bad ending in life. Just like a financial plan, the more you know and put into the plan, the better decisions you will make and the more likely you are to find advocates and friends and family to help you implement your plan. We always hear, “I don’t want to worry my children” and so don’t let them know that there is a plan. This causes unnecessary worry for many.
Never assume that children or family will automatically do the “right thing by you.” Members at At Home Chesapeake have been surprised several times and in unfortunate ways by our naiveté about family dynamics. There are no perfect families just like none of us are perfect.
Learn from your Experiences! On August 31, the live-in caregiver that our family had hired to care for my mom called me to say something strange was going on with mom. The first trip to the ER by ambulance diagnosed a UTI (brain and heart checked first with a scan). She was sent home. She continued to deteriorate and we could not move her. The second trip to the ER resulted in admission and diagnosed stroke on her right side. Mom was stabilized and was sent home with 2 more caregivers for 24/7 support.
My mother is one lucky lady for many reasons. I have been in the field of aging for 25 years. Not just the field of aging but a loud proponent of “aging in community.” When mom wouldn’t move closer to us and stubbornly wanted to live in her 4 bedroom 2 ½ bath house (no bedroom or full bath on first floor), daughter monitored quietly and thoroughly every day to listen and watch for changes. The “bump” was coming, just didn’t know exactly when it would be.
I could call on my colleagues and friends to help secure the best of the best for mom’s rehab and resources. Mom was coddled from beginning to the present with loving care. The resources included a colleague and caring geriatrician in the rehab center, long time association with professionals at the Respite Program at the Department of Aging, plus the care of my supportive and talented husband, friends with special listening and professional skills and fellow members of my village At Home Chesapeake in Anne Arundel County.
What does good support look like when an older adult is in a very vulnerable condition? Today’s scenario: when I arrived at mom’s house, mom had just been bathed with lavender and wildflower body wash, her special foot cream carefully massaged into every toe, and had eaten steamed and pureed spinach butternut squash soup with a banana blueberry smoothie with protein powder. She was lying in her bed peacefully and calmly. Her one medication is a baby aspirin crushed into her food. Mom has lived a natural life without excessive medications and our goal is to help her live out her life naturally.
What can we learn from mom’s story so far? Of course, number one, make a plan! Do have FUN with the plan. Learn from your peers and from all sources you trust. In our Coffee/Discussion in At Home Chesapeake, we take hard questions and subjects and attack the material from all viewpoints. This peer to peer approach builds resilience and trust among us so that we are able to dig deep into our own insecurities about life’s uncertainties.
Caregiving is not for sissies and it is hard work and requires real time and labor. My mom’s choices are limited at this point. I do wish she had not “worried” me for so many years. Worry does take a toll on us adult- children. I do wish my mom had been more proactive with her decision process. My biggest wish is that more of us become “consumers” of living a good and well thought out life. We WILL have bumps but we may be able to ride more smoothly over them with education and planning and resources. This approach will change aging for us and the generations to follow.