One Tuesday morning, just like every day after breakfast, Addie sat in her easy chair by the front window with her coffee and newspaper. Twenty minutes later she wanted a coffee refill but just could not get out of the chair. This had happened a few times before when she sat too long. Her left leg, which she broke in a bicycle fall at age fifteen, was too painful to stand on now that she was ninety-two. Thankfully she had a phone on the table next to her chair. She called Fred, her recently retired next-door neighbor of twenty years, who came right over to help. What a nice man.
Addie took her time before calling June, her daughter. She knew calling Fred for help all the time would get old for him. She figured this call to June would probably change her life, and she wasn’t sure if it would be in good ways.
Addie’s ability to get around has been getting worse for years. She used a cane, but only occasionally. It made her feel old. Her grandson Bill gave her a cane with a sword hidden inside to make it more fun. Didn’t work. Addie left the cane behind when she walked out the front door. She fell going down the stairs, landed at the bottom, and broke the same leg – and in the same spot – she had broken when she was fifteen. She was not allowed to leave the hospital without a walker. She hated the ugly thing. She refused to use it at home, but did take it when going out. After the accident they took away her driver’s license, stranding her at home. Addie resented the way her life turned out. Acknowledging that she is now stuck in her home just depresses her more. She fell again two months ago after making her bed, and now this–stuck in a chair!
Addie did not like being dependent on June, her only child. An energetic sixty-two-year-old, June is “the best daughter ever,” but she has a busy life filled with her husband Gordon, their kids and grandkids, and her accounting business with six employees. Every Sunday June comes to the house to refill Addie’s pillbox, and then the two of them drive to church. After the service they go to June’s house for dinner and cards with Gordon and occasionally the grandkids and great- grandkids. At 4:30, like clockwork, Gordon drives Addie back to her home across town. Whenever Addie asked for extra help from June, it always felt like an imposition, so she hesitated to ask.
This call to June means Addie will have to move. It breaks her heart to think about moving from her home of forty-five years. She knows she does not have the energy to sort through and dispose of all her things. Just the thought of change is too overwhelming. Still, Addie has considered other housing possibilities and even wrote a list when she returned from the hospital. She opened the little drawer in the table next to her chair and read the list again…
- Stay in my own home
This is where I am now, so forget that choice.
- Stay home with more help from June and Gordon
June is very busy with her family and work. I never really enjoyed Gordon’s company, so that’s not such a good choice. The grandkids are working, have young families, and don’t have the time. This choice is not practical.
- Stay in my home with paid help.
Don’t know how to find the right person or agency. What will it cost? Can I afford it? I wonder if this might work out. How am I going to find out?
- Move out. Live in a place with more help.
Where to? to June’s home, to a senior apartment, to assisted living or a nursing home? Would the place be huge or home-like with fewer than ten people?
She thought again about which idea would be best for her. She worries about making the “wrong” move and how to pay for any of them.
No matter, something has to change. It was 9:15 A.M. June would be at work now. Addie picked up the phone.
June’s response was better than Addie anticipated. June said she has been worried about her mother living alone and wanted to help but did not know how. June apologized for seeming to nag Addie. She didn’t mean to. It was just an expression of her frustration of not knowing what to do. At the end of the call June said she would clear her work calendar for the rest of the week. They agreed June would pick up Addie at noon to take her to June’s home for a few days. They could then work together to decide the best living arrangement for Addie.
Immediately after hanging up the phone, June called Marilyn, her estate planning attorney, and asked for help. Marilyn recommended that June and Addie first contact a “care management” consultant to discuss Addie’s options and gave her a reference and phone number. She told them what to expect: the consultant would evaluate Addie’s needs and preferences. Then the care manager would recommend alternatives that might suit Addie. They would probably need to figure out how to stretch Addie’s financial resources. Marilyn offered to meet with June and Addie to consider ways to pay for Addie’s change in living arrangements. June realized knowing more about the financial piece would make it easier to make a decision–and give both of them peace of mind. June made an appointment with Marilyn for Thursday and arranged to see the care manager the next day. She was ready to go pick up Addie.
She arrived at Addie’s just before noon. Addie called Marilyn, the attorney, to give her permission for June to participate in their meeting. Addie packed a few clothes and her meds. She moved her house plants to the kitchen sink. They loaded the car with Addie’s suitcase–and the walker–and then asked Fred to keep an eye on the place for a few days.
June and Addie drove to Anton’s, their favorite restaurant, for a celebratory lunch before seeing the care manager. They were relieved having taken the first step toward creating an enjoyable future for Addie.
- When a person is still mentally sharp, have them sign a “Power of Attorney” where they nominate a first and alternate family member or friend to make financial and health decisions for them when they are unable to help themselves.
- Certified Care Managers National Directory: Aging Life Care Association
Susan M. Graham just published a book entitled “Can Lawyers Always Save the Day for Seniors? – True Retirement Stories”. She wrote this to share stories of common problems for elders that can be avoided or minimized if they just took time to plan and seek help.
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