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Plan ahead 

The children of elderly parents inevitably face difficult decisions

My 87-year-old mother lived independently in a mobile home in Arroyo Grande until soon after a telephone call that changed my life. At 5 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2009, I pushed the “mom” button on my cell-phone contact list: There was no answer, except the pre-recorded greeting, though she always picked up one of the several extensions throughout the house.

I began imagining what could have happened, because she no longer drove and was rarely away in the evening. For a minute, I thought maybe her neighbor had taken her shopping, which was not unusual—though not at that time of day. Moreover, I’d never known her to shower anytime other than the morning. A few minutes later, there was still no answer. Then I really became worried and called her neighbors to check on her, knowing they had a key. Waiting for word was nerve-racking.

The news was not good. They found her on the floor, confused. An ambulance would arrive shortly to take her to Arroyo Grande Hospital. Living in Atascadero, my husband and I jumped into the car for the 35-minute drive. Dazed, we walked into the intensive care unit and learned mom’s condition was indeed serious. She had suffered a massive stroke, which occurred perhaps 24 hours earlier. How was that possible? Our family had purchased a round-the-clock medical alert system to prepare for just such an event. We’ll never know why she didn’t have the wristband on that day or whether she was even capable of pushing the button to alert a response team.

Through a cascade of tears, I began calling family members—who all lived out of the area—and shared the critical state of her condition. Thankfully, my husband did most of the talking, which gave me relief to comprehend my emotional reaction to the day’s wrenching events. The family was on the way.

Following Mom’s five-day stay in the hospital, her caseworker told us about the next step. Finding a suitable care facility was imperative for the rehabilitation process. I called a dear friend who has an extensive medical background to ask for recommendations. The family helped me search for a facility and I was very fortunate to finally locate one in San Luis Obispo—Transitions Care Center—whose staff provided my mother extensive speech and physical therapies. Though she made noticeable improvements, it was evident she would never be able to live in her own home again. She suffers from dysphasia, an impairment of speech production resulting from brain damage, and her mobility requires a walker and constant supervision.

My siblings returned to their homes. Even though the beautiful relationship my Mom and I nurtured through the years was shattered, somehow life didn’t just stop. Visiting her once a day was draining me physically and mentally, so when a friend told me I didn’t look well, I listened. The situation was consuming me. As much as I love my mom, I could not stop living my own life. My husband visited her frequently, giving me time to regroup and recover from the stress.

Living on only her Social Security income, my mom’s assets were minimal. Luckily, she had the foresight to add my name to her bank account several years ago. Already having a health directive from my mom in place, my husband researched obtaining a financial power of attorney for future expenditures, a process we had delayed through the years. Fortunately, in explaining the situation to my mom, and even though she was unable to verbalize her thoughts, she signed the papers. Before we proceeded with the sale of her home, we asked for her blessing. She nodded, with tears in her eyes, knowing that chapter of her life had closed.

Even though we knew Transitions was a temporary facility, we were still caught off guard when, after a two-week stay, the time had come to find a permanent home for Mom. My mind was swimming. Could the family care for her? With two brothers living out of the area, would it be feasible to transport her from home to home? Could we make that commitment? Would she lack a feeling of constancy? Following many discussions with the family, I chose to look into other options. And so my emotional search began.

I visited numerous area nursing homes. These facilities provide skilled nursing care, but my mom, at that point, did not require extensive medical attention. While visiting our local library, I picked up a pamphlet titled New Lifestyles. The booklet offered a wealth of information regarding senior housing and care. Several residential board-and-care homes were listed, and, amazingly, the first of them we visited in our own hometown was a perfect match. Thanks to the help of a devoted, compassionate staff, we are assured Mom’s needs are attended to, giving the family peace.

After a seizure in September 2010 that required yet another hospital stay, her bank account was depleted. When she was able to return to board-and-care, I began the lengthy process of obtaining Medi-Cal in preparation for any future calamities. Thankfully, our family split the cost of her care and we visit Mom regularly. Taking one day at a time, we endeavor to appreciate each moment we share together.

Sue Scheel is a retired office administrator. Send comments via the opinion editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

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