Monday, April 9, 2012

Loss of Independence Day

One fall is all it takes when you are in your 80's.  One fall to take away your independence.

There's no manual for loved ones of elderly parents or in laws.   Seems you have to make it up as you go along.

My mother in law lives about 3 hours away from us, so my spouse and I are technically "long distance caregivers".  We are fortunate that my mother in law (who lives with, and cares for, a developmentally disabled son) (her choice) is fiercely independent and is a mentally strong person.

A two time cancer survivor, she struggles with various physical issues, including residual weaknesses on her left side from a small stroke, and a bad knee due to arthritis. 

BUT....she has fallen several times.  She's always had balance problems, even when she was younger.  She walked for exercise, but it wasn't enough.  It is scary to see this woman (who I have known for over 40 years) age, because in some ways I see myself in her.  It's like a "coming attractions" of a bad, sad movie, and I know I have to work to avoid her fate.  If at all possible.

She has had several falls serious enough to require medical attention, and each one is harder and harder to recover from.

The last fall was yesterday, surrounded by loving relatives at Easter dinner.  It only took a second, and she was there on the fall, with a gash in her arm.  It was a miracle she didn't hit her head.

Fortunately one of the relatives present was a caregiver at one time (her parents are both dead now) and knew just what to do.  I tried to absorb what she did. 

The fall before that, late last year, she fell into a curio cabinet, remained conscious, and was able to talk to her son, and give him directions. She was able to call someone nearby who is a nurse and thank heavens that person was home.  But I truly don't know what he would do if she was unconscious.

She does wear one of the "call for help" buttons.  She's had the service for several years. 

But we are three hours away and both of us work.Thankfully, our son is grown. She has a daughter closer, but that daughter is single, works full time, and lives in constant jeopardy of being laid off.  And meanwhile....my mother in law doesn't want Meals on Wheels.  She doesn't want "government" help.  She pays for lawn care and a weekly housekeeper but my instinct is, that isn't enough anymore.

If we started calling her daily she would not take that well.  Anything that smells like "you aren't independent anymore" is not wanted.  At least at this point of time, she can drive, but we don't know how long that will last.  Her area doesn't have good public transportation. 

So we walk what seems like a tightrope.  We want to respect her wishes, which are to be independent.  But we fear for her safety.  Relatives she depended on a lot for moral support just moved to Florida in their retirement.  She does have a support system but....

One day that day is going to come, the day she can no longer be independent.  She doesn't want that day to come anytime soon.  I don't want it to come, either, for her sake and mine.  How do we best make that happen?

Have you been a long distance caregiver of an elderly parent or in law?  I would love to hear from you.

3 comments:

  1. I became the caregiver of a dear neighbor, Marjorie, who lived across the street from my family when the kids were young. Her daughters were long distance - one an hour away, and one five hours away. Marjorie became a friend, and an adoptive aunt to my children. When she had a heart attack, I stayed with her until another neighbor came and then I ran home to call her daughters while the ambulance arrived. When it snowed I shoveled her walk. As she grew more and more forgetful, I urged her to explore assisted living. Eventually Marjorie's memory loss was severe enough her daughters chose a placement for her, and after moving her she rapidly lost much the rest of her memory. When I visit her today, she has no idea who I am. The reality is we are all going to need help and lost our independence. We can choose what will happen to us ahead of time and plan how we want to be cared for, or we can be like Marjorie, and wait until it is too late and someone else decides for us. I urge your mother to make plans now if she truly wants to make independent decisions for herself. Otherwise, however independent she wants to be, someone else will decide for her.

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  2. What a wonderful comment. You were an ideal neighbor. Thank you for sharing. For whatever it is worth, we had encouraged my mother in law to explore living options before her stroke, and her daughter even took her to a facility. My developmental disabled brother in law, unfortunately, is a "plot complication". We'll just have to do what is best for her - and him-when the time comes.

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  3. I am very much in that boat with you Alana. My mom is 86 and still, thankfully, very independent. BUT... I know that one day not too long from now she will need me much more. It is kind of an odd, dark cloud looming because that situation will be much worse for her than it will be for me :(

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