My friend, 68, will be caregiver to his mom, who is 90

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – May 19, 2018

A Champ to care give his 90-year-old mother (Be sure to read the update at the end)

I have been friends with Mick for 43 years. We worked together at the Victoria Station restaurant chain in the 1970s. Those were fun and carefree days back then. My, my, how life has changed. This week, Mick, 68, reached out for advice.

Mick wrote, “In September, 2017, I retired from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and then spent the winter in Lake Tahoe skiing. While I was up there, Emma, my 90-year-old mother, tripped and fell in the chicken house at her farm in rural Wisconsin and suffered a concussion.

Emma has been living alone, by proud choice, in a circa 1850 farmhouse on 47 acres for the past few years following the passing of her second husband and her dog. That accidental fall at her farm, and, one too many cold winters, finally changed her mind about living alone. She has decided to take me up on my longstanding offer for her to move to Dallas to live out her final years near me.

As I considered her and my housing options, I decided to buy a house near White Rock Lake that was big enough with the right floor plan to permit us to be housemates but still have a healthy measure of separation and privacy.

I read a book titled “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, which describes how we in the developed world have decided to ‘outsource’ the care of our elders to an impersonal, uncaring industry focused more on medical outcomes and safety than quality of life.

I strongly recommend Champs take the time to read the book. That book helped me decide that my mother deserved a better fate than to be parked in an institutional setting waiting to die. That may happen eventually, but until it becomes necessary, I want to provide her with a more pleasant alternative.

I am a bit apprehensive about having my mother as a housemate. She and I are fiercely independent and have each lived alone for many years. We also know how to push each other’s ‘buttons.’ But we have committed to give this a try.

Emma’s health is good. But I know at some point, the wheels will start to come off. There is enough room here to permit live-in help if or when necessary. I intend to go back to work (for the $ and the mental stimulation) and have a new, wonderful lady named Mary Ann, age 61, in my life who lives a short drive away. So, I will get time away from Emma. So, I should avoid caregiver loneliness. Mary Ann is totally on board with Emma moving in with me.

Mick and Mary Ann – Mick will help his Mom; Mary Ann agrees with his decision 

The challenges to this arrangement are obvious. But my mother and I have always gotten along very well. I’m sure we will be able to negotiate our way around the inevitable conflicts (so long as she remains lucid). My immediate concerns are:

1. Her single senior loneliness. Emma will be leaving behind her social network and initially will be totally dependent on me for conversation and emotional support. How do I help her develop a cadre of new buddies here in Dallas to ease that burden? She will need senior social interaction.

2. Her isolation. Our house is in a wonderful park like setting with shade trees and a large nearby lake. Yet Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth largest urban area in the US. So, there is a lot to do – museums, opera, symphony, the Dallas Arboretum, restaurants, art galleries, etc. My mother has agreed to give up her car and will not be driving, but I want her to get out and enjoy all that the Dallas/Fort Worth area has to offer, as long as she is able. Are Uber and Lyft safe and reliable transportation alternatives?

3. My sadness. I think of my mother as a strong, vibrant woman with a bit of a temper and a lot of spunk. She stopped cross country skiing at age 80 and still shovels snow and chops her own firewood. She has always been a handful.

But as she ages, she is beginning to show signs of frailty and loss of cognitive skills. She is more indecisive than before. I understand that such declines may be inevitable but emotionally it’s hard for me to watch and experience. Seeing her only occasionally, as I did previously, made it easier to take. But what will happen when I see it every day? How do I best prepare myself to be strong but remain considerate and loving?

I’m certain our Champs have a lot of collective and hard-earned wisdom on how to manage my new situation. Feedback from them would be helpful. There is no reason for me to reinvent the wheel.”

Tom’s comment to Mick: 

-Your apprehension is understandable. No doubt, her moving in will be an adjustment for both of you.

-Your immediate concerns are valid. She will be lonely; you will need to find places for her where she can go and socialize and make new friends. Is there a senior center near? Check to see if there are clubs or activities that would interest her. I’d get on this her senior social interaction right away.

-Uber and Lyft are, for the most part, safe options. But, occasionally, we hear about a driver who is a bad egg. Also, can Emma use a cell phone to access the apts so she can order Uber or Lyft when she wants to be picked up?

Are wheel-chair-access buses for seniors available to come to your home to transport Emma to and from the places she will want to go?  Also, who will be with her at museums, the opera and other places when she is out and about?

-Good that the new house is big enough should you need live-in help.

-The sadness you feel is natural, after all, you love her. But showing signs of frailty and loss of cognitive skills is normal. To cope with that you will have to realize it goes with the territory. You will be tested most with having patience for her declining ability and if that becomes too unbearable, you may have to make other arrangements for her, which you and she do not want.

That’s what makes care giving so damn hard. It becomes lonely as well. You cannot let it start to cost you your health—that’s a huge challenge.

Knowing you, you will handle the situation with grace and understanding.

And then this happens. Update from Mick on Wednesday:

Mick wrote, “Yesterday, my mother walked into a glass partition at her bank in West Bend WI, bounced off, fell down and severely broke her leg. Fortunately, the hip ball and socket are in good shape (so no hip replacement needed) but she will have a rod and screws installed this afternoon to put her femur back together. My brother is on his way there now. I will fly to Milwaukee Friday.

“So, I guess this will be baptism-by-fire for me regarding this care-taking thing. Wish me luck!”

Loneliness of Caregivers

On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – May 11, 2018

Senior Loneliness. Last week, I asked Champs for input on the loneliness of caregiving.

Before I begin today’s column, I need to mention that writing about this topic was difficult. Caregiving is not easy, as you will comprehend as you read these two responses from Champs.

A positive that emerged for me: It made me appreciate—even more than I already do–how fortunate I am to have Greta, a wonderful and loving partner, in my life. And I hope these two stories will have a similar affect on you.

Also, as we age, we must realize that for some of us, care giving will become a reality. We might become a care-giver, or a care-receiver. Either way, we’ll do our best.

       Caregivers have big hearts 

Linda’s story: Recovering from caregiving

Linda emailed, “I was my husband’s caregiver for many years. Dealing with the loneliness was harder some days than others. I miss having to take care of him.

He had open heart surgery, having his aortic valve replaced in the 1990’s, and never really recovered from that. He ended up getting an infection in his incision, and then was put on “IV” antibiotics for six weeks.

After that, it was just one more bump in the road after another. When he passed away, there was nothing left for me to do. Everything was done and over. I miss talking and laughing with him. I miss getting a hug for no reason. The evenings are the worst as there is no one to talk with or help you figure out a problem.

I was also kind of a caregiver to our dog (a Lhasa Apso). She had arthritis in her back and needed treatments and meds. I had to put her to sleep this past July. Now, I am really alone.

I feel as you become his caregiver, after so many years, you are no longer his wife, you are his caregiver. That realization was tough on some days. Dealing with senior loneliness, you try to get involved with others, but I always felt uncomfortable as everyone usually had someone and I was there alone.

It has been four years this month that he has been gone. I currently have a job working 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. That kind of uses up my evenings. My job is necessary, as there were no funds left when he passed. I am getting better and stronger each day, but it is taking time.

Althea’s story: In a way, caregiving is her savior, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy

Althea said, “I am ‘sort of’ a caregiver; I live with a couple in Yuba City, California. I get lonely and feel very alone in this world most of the time.

I’m 69 and was taken-in last August by a married couple who are both 81 and live in their own 3-bedroom, 2-bath house. I was in jeopardy of becoming homeless in Placerville, a couple of hours from here, and, through their daughter finding me, they accepted me and my 7-year-old dog, to help with their challenges of aging.

They gave me the master bedroom and bath. I don’t get paid, but, that balances out with my not having to pay rent or for groceries.

The wife has dementia; I help with her issues when her husband is not around. He goes fishing at least three times a week and keeps busy in his garage the other days. He and I take turns making the evening meals (she doesn’t cook anymore; she ‘tidies up’ but doesn’t clean anything).

I’ve been dealing with senior loneliness for a long time because I’ve been divorced for many years and have been living alone since 2008 when my last child graduated from college.

This senior loneliness feels different though. Before, I would be lonely, but I was living in my own home, surrounded by my things that were familiar and made me feel safe. I could putter and find things to do in my house or outside.

Now, I have my own room with all my things and furniture in it, but I’m living in someone else’s house where everything else is out of my control…like arranging the kitchen cabinets and drawers the way I’d prefer or moving things around in the rest of the house.

I don’t spend any time in their living room. I spend a few hours in the dining room where I do jigsaw puzzles on the big table (they don’t use the room anymore) and kitchen, eating or cleaning up.

I spend most of the day in my room with my dog: computer, iPad, phone, TV, books, magazines, my thoughts, sometimes writing in a journal.

To combat senior loneliness, I get out most every day. I take my dog for walks at one of the many grassy/shady parks. Sometimes, I just drive around for a while and run my own small errands for personal items, also sometimes buy lunch and eat at one of the parks.

I found a therapist last October and have a standing appointment for one hour on Wednesdays. It helps to have someone to vent to, get advice on dealing with a person with dementia, and just have a coherent female to talk to!

On most discount-Tuesdays, I see a movie showing late morning or middle of the day. Before Craigslist eliminated the personals column, I had an ad looking to meet a man or woman to share movies with and/or become friends.

Meeting a man didn’t happen, (only a couple first meetings). I did meet one lady in her 70’s who lives nearby. We’ll have breakfast now and then and visit a while, chat through emails too but we’re very different.

Through my therapist I met another lady, also in her 70’s, whom I no longer see. No compatibility there – she stopped contacting me after we met three times. I’m thinking she wasn’t comfortable with my situation.

Then, five weeks ago, on a dating site, I met a man I have started spending a little time with–three dates since our initial coffee meeting.

He’s 66 and lives an hour’s drive away, so I’m not sure if either of us will be able to keep seeing each other on a regular basis, since the long drive up and back triggers my arthritis pain in my hands and shoulders, and I don’t have a lot of money for gas.

Plus, he knows I don’t live in my own home, so our dates down here are in the park or out for meals. I don’t feel comfortable having him over here – yet. Even if/when I do, it’s not my house.

This week, my therapist gave me some info about an Alzheimer’s support group here in my town. They meet on the fourth Saturday every month for two hours, at a nearby senior living facility. Hopefully that will help me too. Might even meet other ladies there to become friends with.

All of this doesn’t completely ‘fix’ my loneliness issues, because when I’m back in the house, the issues wash over me all over again, but I’m doing my best to overcome loneliness every day and think positively.

Tom’s final take: It’s important for caregivers to stay in contact with as many friends and family members as they can. Senior social interaction is critical. Althea made that clear. And her reminder to think positively is just as critical.