Defining Suitable Assisted Living: Who Says You Can’t Rock and Roll at 86?
Debbie Nguyen explains what it's like when her always-healthy mom suddenly needs an assisted living facility.
by Debbie Nguyen
I woke up one day and realized to my horror that I was past middle-aged. Guffaw! When did this happen? I got married rather late and had children even later. All of a sudden, I find myself at a crossroads. My kids are not completely independent yet. One is only a sophomore in high school still. But my 86-year-old mother is beginning to show signs of faltering.
My mother has just renewed her driver’s license, although she prefers not to drive much anymore. She has a handicapped placard for her car because her hips bother her sometimes but she is perfectly capable of walking. She used to practice Tai Chi every day. She did water-aerobics, although getting her hair wet was a point of contention. She was a wonderful ballroom dancer. She is a woman who used to boast that she still maintained a 19-inch waist after birthing 4 kids. Keeping her figure and controlling her weight has never been a problem, a puzzle to all of her kids, since she was also a phenomenal, self-taught chef.
Born in the Year of the Cat but Healthy as an Ox
For the most part, she’s as healthy as an ox. She likes to complain that all we kids want to do is warehouse her in some Atlanta GA assisted living facility. She likes to complain about all the “medications” she has to take whenever she gets together with her old friends. It becomes almost a competition between the old friends as to who is the most feeble. But it turns out her “medications” are mostly supplements and vitamins. Compared to her friends, she is an anomaly. Some of them require oxygen. Some are partially paralyzed, some in wheelchairs. Some have passed away from different diseases or cancer. We keep shouting at her, “You are not sick.”
She's Fallen and She Can't Get up
Sadly for us, she has had enough scary episodes where we have to start thinking about assisted living arrangements. One of my sisters found her last year on the floor of her kitchen, not able to sit up or keep her balance. She has confessed to me that she has problems controlling her movements at times. In one such episode, she willed her hands to cap a jar of spices but her hands would not obey. Another time, she couldn’t put her glaucoma eye drops in because she couldn’t get her head to tilt back. She has fallen in her driveway and miraculously not broken any bones. The latest fall left her so black and blue with angry bruises that it was difficult to look at her.
To her, the very idea of assisted living is like death because it would be loss of freedom. Where would she bake? Where would she cook? What would she do without her own kitchen? In an Asian culture, we never discussed such things. It was the norm for family members to live together. It's considered impolite and unacceptable to not care for your elders. So how do we go about finding a suitable and comfortable place for her? She has always been an active person and always willing to try new things.
Find the Right Match for Mom
So our search includes a location that is close to one of us kids. It has to have a fine medical staff and actually be near to a major hospital. It must be clean and comfortable. It must have opportunities for socializing. I want it to have either a pool or a gym so she can still exercise. She reads a lot so I would want there to be a library or a study with computer and Internet access.
So I think we found one pretty near me. For one thing, there is a huge misconception that needs to be cleared up. Assisted living places are not holding tanks for the old and infirm. Some resemble really nice hotel suites. Some have full kitchens, living rooms, and dining rooms which provide nutritious choices. I would love to check in myself and be waited on.
It is never easy to see your beloved parents decline. My mother has always been full of vitality and sass. She's been independently living alone but at a certain point, we do have to think of her future and give her the best quality of life possible.
Debbie Nguyen is a blogger and designer in Atlanta. She wants her formidable mother to move into an assisted-living facility instead of living alone as she has for the last 13 years since the passing of Debbie's father.
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