Thursday, 24 March 2011

When parents become too old to care for themselves ...

My neighbour was taken into hospital in January.  She's ninety-nine years old, and has been looking forward to her 100th birthday party in August.

She underwent an operation, then succumbed to one of the really nasty super-bugs which can be fatal.  She survived.  When I visited her she was alert and perky.  Physios were exercising her legs daily.

However, following a stint of enforced bed rest, she now complains that it hurts too much to get out of bed, and so her legs are not exercised at all.

When she was at home, she could move, allbeit very slowly, with her wheeled zimmer frame.  But she would fall periodically, and be taken in to hospital for a day for observation and x-rays.  So, she spent most of her life in her riser chair, looking out of the window, reading, watching tv and sleeping.  She cannot cook, make a cup of tea, clean, or dress herself unaided, but is mentally alert most of the time.

Her daughter, a lovely lady who has her home and family across the globe, is here to help her mother. She is concerned for her mother's safety if she returns home, and was relieved when she agreed to go to a convalescent home for a few weeks. 

Sadly, her mother has decided, now, against the home, as she is convinced that as soon as she returns home, she will be able to walk again.  We all know that isn't going to happen.  Yes, she could, with a huge effort, stand, then move her feet.  However, her pace was so slow that a tortoise could have out walked her, effortlessly.  And she was unsteady - hence the falls.

Mentally, though, she still lives in an era when she could move easily.  And the carers who attend her daily, take care of her basic needs, so she's happy at home.   That's important.

The mental health of her daughter is also important.  Living half way across the world from  your very elderly, infirm mother must be a terrible burden to carry.  She phones daily, but worries constantly about her mother's wellbeing.

So, what's the best thing in this situation?  Should the medical team at the hospital insist upon time in a convalescant home?  Indeed, can they do so?  If they allow her to return home and she falls and injures herself because of the lack of muscle tone in her legs, would they be in some way liable for any accident, as they had sent her home knowing her condition?  Do they keep her in hospital?  Well, she's not sick, and bed's are in short supply, so that's unlikely to be an option.

Is a live-in companion the answer?  For a fiercely proud, and private lady, to share her home would be a terrible imposition.  Is it right to even consider it? 

Additional carers in attendance?  Possibly, she does enjoy their visits, as a rule.  She blossoms when someone is there with her - it breaks up her day.

Or, is a residential home the solution?  Round the clock care when needed.  Her own room, so that she can enjoy solitude whenever she feels like it, but the option of a lounge or two where she could chat with other residents if the fancy took her.  Meals made freshly for her, not left on a plate with a flask of coffee.

I know what I would want for my parents, but what if, like my neighbour, they fought against it?  I wonder what I'd do then.  What do you think?  How would you resolve such a painful situation if it was your parent(s)?  I really don't know the answer - in fact, there may not be any "right" answer.  So sad.


  1. coming from the viewpoint of a caregiver in a memory care facility for the elderly, and my observations, giving up one's independence is one of the most difficult trials an elder may face. especially so for someone so fiercely independent.

    ideally, a child would take care of her, however, when that is not an option, and she is set so against moving into a facility, the most advantageous alternative would be a full time live-in caregiver. or, at the very least, one who is there 8-12 hours a day with a some sort of emergency alert system for off hours, should she fall.

    either way, to give up her independence is going to be extremely difficult no matter what she does.

  2. Thanks, Joe, interesting to hear your viewpoint as a professional. she has now agreed to go into a home, and seems happy at the prospect. fingers crossed all works out for them both.


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