Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Caring for long-distance, aging parents

My parents are in their eighties. That came as a shock to me, but the other day the police confirmed it: 80s.

I'd called the cops—the cops at the other end of the state, that is—because the head guy (HG) at the retirement community my parents live in called to say (among other things) that my mother had been missing for 2 days. No, I don't know why he hadn't called the cops before this. But when I did, they noted that they'd answered a call about my father at the community a few days before, and that his description said he was 84. Which makes my mom 81.

But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. I first got a call one day as I was sitting down to dinner. Lately I've been getting "please give to our charity" calls at that time, so I let it ring. When done, I checked the message. For the first two minutes of it, HG was explaining who he was and that I was listed as Mom & Dad's contact person.

Two full minutes of this. While I'm thinking, "OMG, they're dead! Someone's dead!"

It wasn't until the two minute mark that he actually got around to saying that everyone was fine, for the most part. Dad was in the hospital with double-pneumonia, and as usual (this has happened a lot lately), the Parentals didn't call to inform. But Dad had been waiting for Mom to show up for visiting hours, and HG reiterated that Mom hadn't been seen in 2 days. He said that the last anyone had seen of her was her driving home from the hospital after Dad had been admitted a few days before.

I've known of two occasions in which Mom got hopelessly lost trying to get home from visiting Dad in the hospital. On both occasions she found a kind soul who let her follow them to her community. Which is about 5 minutes from the hospital.

I tracked down a phone # for Dad and he assured me he was feeling much better. (The same thing he'd told me the week before. Apparently he'd lied then.) A friend was supposed to provide transportation for Mom, but no one had shown yet. Dad told me that they were very, very late from when they'd told him they'd visit. The home phone had been busy for hours. (Mom forgets to put the phone back on the hook.)

My mom has Alzheimer's—she's been treated for it for years and is doing fine, though very forgetful of recent happenings—and so does my Dad, though he refuses to admit it. (We assume that he has to appear to be strong.) Dad is not getting treatment; his condition has gotten increasingly worse over a shockingly short time. He'll tell you a different story about the same incident within two minutes of each other. He's always searching for words that are just out of reach, frustrating him mightily. Mom just tells you what she thinks you want to hear, unless she tells you something that she's been ruminating on and embellishing to the point where it turns into complete non-reality.

In other words, you can't trust either one with telling you what's actually going on.

I got hold of the sheriff and they said they'd send someone over. Then I called Dad again, and guess who had showed up? Turns out that Mom hadn't taken long at all to get there; Dad was just impatient. And she'd eaten dinner in their community's dining hall just a couple hours before, so lots of people had seen her. I called off the sheriff and thanked him profusely.

So here we are today: Dad is in a rehab facility, learning to swallow correctly so he won't swallow liquids into his lungs again. He's doing great down there, and we hope to get him out two Fridays from now, before he can go insane. It appears that in that nursing home, there are only two others who have reasonable mental faculties. The noise level is loud, there's nothing for Dad to do when he's not in physical therapy, and the food is horrendous.

Mom will walk down to see him. His facility is two doors beyond their eating hall. But yesterday she got mixed up and landed at the assisted living center (which has a long wait list) instead, and apparently they couldn't point to the parking lot and next building and direct her from there. Thus, Mom took a little longer than usual to amble down for her visit.

So my sister gets an email from HG talking about how my dad keeps calling the cops when Mom doesn't arrive. Dad says he did not call the cops; he called HG to see if he knew where Mom was. Two weeks ago when we asked if the community could find someone to drive Mom down to visit Dad (one way; the community has a bus that can ferry her back) an hour before dinner, HG told us they were not set up to provide such extensive service. Now he says that we must add additional home service help (we already have help coming in 3x week) to keep track of Mom in case she gets dangerously lost. He says the community will hire them (from a company he keeps pushing at us; we think he gets kickbacks) and charge the services to M&D. I wonder where he gets the idea he can legally do that?

Mom does not have keys to the car. She may take her time and get a little confused, but eventually she finds her way. The problem with Dad is that he's not allowing her that time and panics. The problem with HG is that he's calling the cops and blowing things out of proportion.

Anyway, we kids (sis and bro-i-l) gathered there two weekends ago to scope out the sitch and talk with various resources. HG had assured us he'd be there. Of course he wasn't. He left some 13-year-old (well, she looked that young) in the office instead, who didn't know anything but how to hand out business cards.

We have insurance-paid nurses coming once a week to put pills in the proper boxes and make sure Mom is physically healthy. I call every day that no one else shows up to have Mom take her pills while I'm on the phone. We have Home Helpers (a chain; I've used 'em before) coming in twice a week as an additional check to make sure Mom is taking her pills (they can't give them to her, but they can stand there and watch while she swallows), get groceries, pick up prescriptions, do a little laundry, and take Mom down to visit Dad.

FYI: such help is in the neighborhood of $18/hour (some chains add more for weekend work, or if you ask for less than 3 hours). Make sure the company you choose checks out its employees well.

While we were there my sister (the CPA who's in charge of M&D's finances) ransacked their files to make sure we had the latest Important Papers. I'd called their lawyers and had been told that they'd redone everything in 2009. The papers my sister and I had were dated 1988.

Turns out the 1988 stuff (boy! that sounds ancient!) was the latest versions, but they were retyped or something and we now have spiffy, crisp copies.

We were looking for
• Wills
• Direct Power of Attorney (I've heard that some states also require a Direct Power of Medical Atty)
• Living Wills

So if you have elderly parents (or just parents), be sure you have copies of these. If you have kids, make sure they have copies of your documents.

We're still looking for
• Pre-paid funeral contracts

We're told these are often transferrable. No, not to other people (though I don't know about that), but to other cities as the people involve move.

According to my parents' contract with their community, they have to give 90 days (yes! I said 90!) notice to move. If we did that, that would mean moving them out at the end of December. In the mountains of NC. In a winter that's predicted to be a wet one.

So my sister broached the idea to my dad of moving at Thanksgiving and he sounded favorable. She's looking for assisted living places near her, where M&D can be near their grandkids and great-grandkids. She and I decided that the best choice was to move 'em out at Thanksgiving so as to avoid the chance of bad weather AND in case any last-minute glitches come up, we've still got time to maneuver.

When I called Dad up last night and mentioned Thanksgiving, I thought he was having a fit. But really, what should it matter that much? They don't have that many friends there, though they do have a doctor they love. Decades ago when I helped move them from Fayetteville, I discovered that, the Friday before movers were to appear on Monday, they hadn't done any packing. My b-i-l told me about moving them from TN, a little over a decade ago: again, no packing beforehand. So it's not like we're forcing M&D to pack at lightspeed.

Plans are that we pack everything, ship it to the far side of TN, and have yard sales in the spring to downsize their belongings. It sounds reasonable to me, but we don't want M&D to feel like we're kicking them out, working against their wishes, etc.

Having long-distance, aging parentals is not fun! My advice to others is to have your legal documents in order and not only have a Plan A in mind, but Plans B and C. If your loved ones are experiencing reduced mental faculties, get them to tell you what they'd prefer while they are still able to think straight.

And as for you yourself, make sure you have long-term care insurance! I've got to check what I've got; I think I need to expand it a bit. Ca-ching!!!!

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