First, my elderly father lost bladder function due to diabetes. Then, he fell down the stairs, breaking bones in his face. Finally, his home was robbed while he was sleeping. It was then that I knew it was time to move him into an assisted living facility.
This decision sounds clear-cut, but it was one of the hardest I ever had to make. Nobody wants to “put their parent into a home.” But my dad, Bob Quigley, needed more care than I could provide.
My dad was a World War II veteran who used the GI Bill to get his doctorate in history from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught at Rosemont College and other Catholic institutions in the Philadelphia area for more than 35 years. He had three kids, including me, and three grandsons.
He lived for nine years in assisted living and a nursing home, before eventually dying from dementia at age 90. For those nine years he was taken care of, well-fed and safe. He had a room all to himself and was content. If he fell, someone picked him up. There were no more panicked trips to the ER. That hard decision turned out to be the right one.
My parents had long ago divorced and when Dad turned 81, his cognition and health started to decline. I am part of the “sandwich generation,” which means I had to arrange care for Dad while also being a single mom of two sons and working full-time as a college teacher. Sometimes I felt like tearing my hair out.
The first step in providing care for an elderly parent is assessing the need and getting other family members involved. My dad was very stubborn and got angry if my siblings or I “fussed” over his messy house or forgetful memory.
I had to push past my guilt at making Dad upset and begin to take control. It’s hard to make that switch from child to caregiver but it must be done.
Here are the steps I took to make sure he was safe:
GET THE DOCUMENTS
I found an experienced eldercare attorney and took my father to update his will, living will, power of attorney and healthcare surrogate. AARP has a good checklist of the legal documents. Do this when the elderly person is still lucid.
WHAT KIND OF HELP?
Does your parent need an in-home aide? Assisted living? Nursing home care? The website caring.com has a guide for caregivers, with sections on finding different kinds of care. At first, I hired two in-home caregivers to come during the week to check on him, tidy up and make sure he was eating. AARP has guides for choosing each kind of care.
FIGURE OUT FINANCES
How much money does your parent get every month in Social Security, pension and retirement accounts? What are their expenses?
Nursing homes are paid through Medicaid but most assisted living facilities are paid out of pocket. The average cost of an assisted living facility in New Jersey is $6,495 per month, according to the Genworth cost of care survey. My father was a college teacher for more than 35 years. He never made a high salary, but he did have a healthy retirement account. He hated computers and paid for everything by check, so I transferred all his bills to auto-pay. We went to his banks together and got my name on his checking accounts. I knew his revenue and expenses.
Although I wanted Dad to stay in his home, I knew that wouldn’t be possible. His home had several flights of stairs, one of which he fell down. I contacted a real estate agent and got his home assessed. Then I made a list of nearby assisted living facilities. The Medicare webpage allows you to search by zip code and provides ratings.
I also visited several places. Here is what I looked for: cleanliness, smell, number of staff on the floor, amenities, continuation of care. I made a big mistake though and chose a facility close to my father’s house, but 40 minutes from my home. I should have picked a facility close to my place. I thought my dad would want to stay in his neighborhood, but it really didn’t matter.
Everyone is different, but Dad adjusted quickly and settled in. He seemed almost relieved to no longer worry about a house, his bills or becoming ill or hurt. For years, he took walks around the facility, ate ice cream, watched Phillies games on television with other residents and had visits from family.
Watching a loved one decline is not easy. But searching for proper care doesn’t have to be hard.
—Kathryn Quigley is a mom of two, a college professor and a freelance writer who lives in Gloucester County.