Tag Archives: nursing homes

Elderly drug-pushers

I’ve posted before about how my dad became a zombie on the cocktail of medications the nursing home gave him. It’s common practice to sedate patients so they don’t become problematic for staff members. The drugs that the nursing home gave to Dad didn’t stop him from wandering about, they just left him without any ability to show emotions.

The nursing home my mom is in right now doesn’t seem to be overmedicating. In fact, Mom has had trouble getting the medications she is supposed to be taking on time. Last night, she never got her pain meds (just Tylenol PM) at all, despite the fact that she was recovering from a procedure on the veins in her leg.

Her roommate has a host of issues, both mental (bipolar) and physical (bulging disk in back.) She told my mom, in her permanently slurred speech, “You should ask for narcotics, like Percocet or Morphine. You won’t get hooked.”

Mom is managing her pain fine with Tylenol PM, and from the looks of her roommate, I’d say she’s indeed hooked. She sleeps most of the day, and even when she’s awake, she’s barely able to maintain a conversation. She has this permanent “doped up” expression on her face. It’s clear she’s trying to escape from her pain, and not just the physical kind.

And really, who can blame the elderly for wanting to escape into a drug-induced haze when they find themselves living in a nursing home?

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Reminder of Dad

I visited Mom at the nursing home during lunch today. The spacious dining room is bright and airy, and looks out on the bird-filled courtyard. Still, there is much sadness in the air. The residents vary in degrees of sickness, and the ones with mental issues are mixed in with the ones with physical issues. Today at Mom’s table, there was a man that appeared to be in his 60’s. He had white hair, and appeared to be quite tall, though he was hunched over in his wheelchair. He had on a t-shirt that said something about grandpas.

He had pushed himself a few feet away from the table, and was gnawing with great intensity on the piece of fried chicken served with lunch. The entire time we were at the table, he continued to eat that way, as if he were obsessed with it.

When Mom and I ventured out into the courtyard after lunch for some fresh air, Mom said the man reminded her of Dad. She ate with Dad a few times while he was in the nursing home. He had a great appetite, but would eat in a rushed manner, like the man my mom now dines with.

There’s a woman with dementia in Mom’s wing. She rolls herself up and down the hallways in a special walker that is connected on all sides, I guess to prevent falls. The confusion in her eyes is the same look I saw so many times in Dad’s eyes. Today she was looking for the bathroom. The nurse was a bit short with her (I’m sure it was probably the 50th time she had told the resident where the bathroom was that day). “Your bathroom is in your room. 107!”

The woman mumbled 107 as she took off down the hallway again. Mom was slowly rolling herself in the wheelchair back to her room. We encountered the wide-eyed woman again.

She looked at me, pleading. “Where is the bathroom?”

I repeated what the nurse had said just a minute before. She looked relieved and made it into the bathroom in her room. Later, as I was leaving, she was trying desperately to get into a locked room.

I hope Mom doesn’t have to live here permanently, but I know that it may be a valid option.

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Home fades away

I’ve written before about how Mom was always so heartbroken when Dad never asked to go home with her when she said goodbye to him at the nursing home.

Now she’s lost the meaning of home as well.

I was visiting her today at the nursing home and gently brought up possible plans once she’s discharged from the skilled nursing facility. She stressed how she would be afraid to live alone. I asked her if she wanted to go home and she surprised me by saying home didn’t really have much meaning to her anymore. She said she didn’t have much memory of the town she’s lived in for the past 10 years, or the condo that she kept so neat.

“It’s all different now,” Mom said as she waved her hands weakly in the air.

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Wearing other’s clothes

Today there was some drama with my mom not having clean clothes to wear. I brought her five changes of clothing which was what I was told to supply. Somehow, Mom ended up not having any pants to wear and had to go to the dining room with a bedsheet wrapped around her waist.

Of course, Mom could have had breakfast in her room but I’m glad she wants to be social. I guess it isn’t quite like high school because she would have definitely been defying the dress code!

With Dad, we supplied a few outfits, but we never saw him wearing his own clothes. I’ve written before about my first visit to the nursing home where Dad lived, and seeing him in Scooby Doo pajama bottoms. When they sent “his” belongings after he died almost all of the clothes belonged to someone else.

So far, no cartoon character prints for Mom, but she was so grateful when I visited her at lunch and they found her a pair of sweatpants to wear. I was grateful too, and I brought in several more outfits for her to wear.

When you become old and sick, you give thanks wherever you can find it.

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The need for companionship

First of all, it’s my 200th post! Thanks to everyone who has followed the ups and downs of my strange journey this year, as I explore my father’s death and legacy and now my mom’s serious illness and brush with death.

Mom was finishing up lunch today when I came to visit her at the nursing home. She ate everything but the main dish, which was veal. That’s not something she ever ate at home, so I can’t blame her for skipping it. It seems that in the hospital and now in the nursing home, the menus are very meat-centric. I wonder when my generation (and the future generations) get old if the nursing homes and hospitals will be forced to serve up healthier food, vegetarian options, etc. I guess they are going for comfort food that will be appealing to the masses but all of it ends up looking like mystery meat to me.

It’s also sad to see so much food wasted at these places, when there’s obviously people starving all over the world.

Now Dad was quite different when he lived at the nursing home. Up until the last few months of his life, when he lost the ability to swallow, he would clear his plate every time. The nurses would joke about not being able to keep him filled up. I’m sure he would have wolfed down Mom’s veal cutlet!

There’s also another major difference between Mom and Dad. With Dad’s dementia, he withdrew more and more. He would be brought into the dining room to eat, but would do so alone at a table, not talking to anyone. Dad was a bit of a loner before the dementia but he had that Irish charm and could strike up a conversation with a stranger quite easily. I’ll never know if he suffered at mealtime, or if he was content in his own little world.

Mom, on the other hand, is a social butterfly. She’s already been adopted by the others into the “dining room family,” as Peggy, another resident explained. This nursing home “mafia” collects any salt and pepper packets not used and puts them in a community tin. So I guess I know where to go if I run out of salt and pepper!

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The diaper follies

You have to find humor where you can in the nursing home. Mom used to haul adult diapers on the Greyhound bus as she went to visit Dad at the nursing home. Finally, she allowed me to just order them online. It was not as easy as one might think. Certain styles worked better for Dad, and of course, finding his size was difficult because he kept losing weight. Also, Dad started going through more and more diapers each day. With his dementia, he would sometimes try to rip them off.

Mom now finds herself wearing diapers. Hopefully, it’s temporary. Today, she was wearing a dress and the staff changed her diaper before her physical therapy session. She said it felt a little loose. While she was trying to master the walker during her therapy session, the diaper slipped off and fell right on the floor.

Mom had a better attitude about it than I probably would have had. She said they all had a good laugh about it.

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Back to the nursing home

So I just got Mom settled into the skilled nursing facility. The sights and sounds bring back so many memories of my dad, and his final year that was mostly spent in a nursing home. Of course, the circumstances were different. Dad had dementia and was placed in a memory care unit because he was no longer manageable at home. Mom is recovering from major surgery and trying to regain her independence.

Dad’s case was pretty much hopeless. I have a bit more hope for my mom, but let’s face it, no one wants to be in one of these facilities. Who would want to rely on strangers to do the simplest of tasks for them?

There was a patient wandering the hall saying she was bleeding. A couple of others were mumbling to themselves around the nurse’s station, which was unmanned. I felt so sad as I left Mom there, after sitting with her for dinner. I’m not sure why the nursing home bothers me more than the hospital. There are so many similarities.

I know a part of me wonders if Mom will ever check out of the facility I have placed her in and return home. Mom was the one adamant about not returning home yet; she’s not even able to walk around on her own with a walker yet. So I don’t have guilt about that, it’s just that all of these facilities are so woefully understaffed. I know my mom will be waiting for help and it will take forever for someone to respond.

Perhaps my dad was the lucky one. He was less aware of being neglected.

At least I hope he was.

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A tour no one wants to take

So it’s pretty clear that Mom won’t be able to go back home immediately after discharging from the hospital. She’s going to need some skilled nursing care, in a safe, secure environment. If we were rich (maybe if Mom had won a million dollars instead of $100K) I would gladly hire a private nurse to stay with my mom 24/7. But that’s not the case. Mom is a bit confused and thinks she can stay at the hospital indefinitely. The hospital will be booting her out as soon as she meets the minimum requirements for discharge. So she’s okay with staying in a facility for now, because even she understands she’s not in shape to go home just yet.

So today was the tour of skilled nursing facilities, aka nursing homes. It’s a depressing journey, but at least there is only three in town to look at. With Dad, he was simply placed in one that had availability, so we didn’t do a tour of them, but I couldn’t help but think of Dad as the facility representative mentioned the special unit for dementia patients. I saw a bit of Dad in many of the patients that were parked in the corner of a hallway, or eating listlessly in the dining room. There were also some residents that were ambling about quite well and were friendly. And then there were a couple that were screaming. It’s all part of the typical nursing home environment, and it’s where Dad spent the last year of his life.

I don’t want the same fate for Mom. She will be going into short-term care, with the plan being to get her strong and stable enough to return home with a minimal amount of supervision. Mom is tough, and loves her independence. She’s also good at following directions, something Dad of course could not do due to his dementia. So I have hope that this move will be a positive one, and that she will be out of the skilled nursing facility in a week or two.

Home. That is the goal.

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Personal signs on the nursing home door

I’m sure many nursing homes have signs of some sort to identify which resident lives in which room. This was true of the nursing home my Dad lived at the last year of his life. I thought I had taken a photo at some point but I can’t find it. I was struck by the child-like quality the signs had. They identified where the resident was born, then their favorite color, their favorite food, etc. I think it included family information, like how many kids/grandkids they had and I don’t remember what else. The signs reminded me of being in kindergarten, and going through various exercises to get to know your classmates.

I’ve been thinking about those signs lately, as I’m writing a a brief autobiographical blurb for a writing project I’m working on. Trying to figure out the important details to include, and what to kick out, is exhausting.

At some point in our lives, it seems there are so many details that seem crucial for others to know, but at the beginning and the end, it seems to come down to colors and food and family.

Maybe those are the important things after all.

(The thing that bothered me about my dad’s sign is that a lot of the information was incorrect. They got his hometown of Belfast correct, but his favorite color wasn’t blue and spaghetti wasn’t his favorite food, it was fish.)

It was just another way Alzheimer’s chipped away at my Dad’s identity.

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Nursing home musings

If you haven’t read Ted Sutton’s heartbreaking, beautiful story about his mother on Huffington Post, entitled “Final Curtain: A Mother’s Day Love Story”, you should, but make sure to have the tissues handy.

There are several points in his piece that I’m sure most of us that have dealt with Alzheimer’s or dementia in our family can relate to. For example, I related to the difficulty of finding your loved one at the nursing home. So often, residents end up being dressed in clothes that are not their own, and so often many are heavily medicated and slumped over in chairs. On my visits, I could usually find Dad because he was ambling about instead of just sitting down like most of the residents. This of course was good and bad, because while it was good he was ambulatory his unsteady gait led to several falls. Sutton’s piece touches upon this sad reality as well.

The last photograph of dad and I together, July 2011, just before he attempted to sing "Happy Birthday" to me.

The difficult of phone communication with Alzheimer’s patients also struck a chord with me. This was so true with my father. I hated calling the nursing home and trying to talk to him because it seemed like a difficult task for him and that he didn’t enjoy it. My mom insisted on calling him almost every night, which was more for her well-being than his, though I do hope the sound of a familiar voice gave him some comfort. But my mom would often comment that she would “lose connection” with Dad, as he would drop the phone and wander off, or just forget that he was supposed to talk into the receiver.

And the touching part where Sutton sings with his mother is absolutely beautiful. It makes me think of my father’s last pitiful attempt at singing “Happy Birthday” to me, and how he was barely awake as he moved his lips along with my mom, who tried to fill in for him. My parents would always make a big production out of singing “Happy Birthday” to me over the phone, since as an adult, I never had the chance to spend my birthday with them.

So thanks to Ted Sutton for sharing such an amazing, heart-wrenching, and beautifully-written piece with the world. I’m sure it will resonate loudly with many caregivers throughout the world. Sutton is also working on a book about his mother. I can’t wait to read it.

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