During the last few weeks I’d been noticing some troubling changes in my mom who has Alzheimer’s. She spent more time sleep. She resisted going to the dining room for meals. She had more difficulty walking and was quite unsteady on her feet. What made all this more troubling was that she was alone in a two bedroom apartment in Gayton Terrace, an assisted living complex. Though staff were going by to encourage her to get up, get dressed and go to the dining room, they were no match for my mother’s determination to stay cocooned in her bed. And, staff in assisted living are spread pretty thin. There was no way Mom could get the monitoring for safety and the amount of encouragement and attention she needed. I had a niggling feeling it was time to make a change in Mom’s living situation.
The next step for Mom was memory care, moving to a locked floor where she would be able to have more care, more encouragement and more watchful eyes. Part of my reluctance to move Mom to memory care was my perception of memory care. I thought it was a step down and one step closer to the inevitable end of the sad course that Alzheimer’s runs in the brains of its victims. I was also hung up on the fact that it’s a locked floor. I didn’t want Mom locked away, even if it was for her safety. Mom doesn’t wander (yet), so the locked aspect wasn’t what Mom needed. But, after meeting with the nursing supervisor for memory care and the psychologist who coordinates activities for memory care residents I learned that being in a smaller community can be comforting to Alzheimer’s patients who as their cognitive abilities decline become easily overwhelmed by too much sensory input. Moving to memory care could be a very good thing for Mom.
As I sat on the fence of that decision I realized that part of my reluctance to commit to making that move was that I didn’t want to take more of Mom’s independence from her. The Alzheimer’s was already doing a number on that. She has a comfortable apartment that she has grown to love and find comfort in. The thought of disrupting that and making her move into a new, unfamiliar situation was daunting. I knew she’d object and resist making the change. And, I couldn’t blame her. The familiar is comforting. To make matters worse, I too loved her apartment and loved spending time with her in the greater community of Gayton Terrace. I too would be losing some things that brought me great comfort as well.
Then fate stepped in and gave me a sign. Yes, a sign. When I arrived for my regular Saturday morning visit I found Mom in the midst of an uncontrollable bout of diarrhea. She was beside herself with the discomfort and feeling out of control of what her body was doing. She had been struggling for some time all alone going back and forth to the bathroom, not always making it to the toilet in time. She was exhausted. She was a mess. And, the staff were unaware of her plight. Mom’s failing memory made it impossible for her to remember how to call for help using an alarm in the bathroom and the bedroom. That cinched it for me. The horror of that situation and my mother’s powerlessness pushed me over the fence. The next day I wrote the nursing supervisor to get the ball rolling to get Mom into memory care.
Once I made the decision that the move was going to be made, once I’d talked to the nursing supervisor and learned that just the right kind of room was available, and once I’d lined up my husband and a dear friend to help with the move, I felt such great relief. I felt a surge of energy and optimism from a deep knowing that though difficult, this change is the best course of action for Mom. I hadn’t realized that carrying that decision around in my head and heart for weeks was such a heavy load. Only after making the decision was I able to acknowledge the emotional toll that sitting in indecision had been costing me. Though I still have many challenges in front of me to coordinate the move and help Mom with this transition, I now have energy to face them. When in indecision my energy was consumed by fear, dread and grief. Once the decision was made I was energized and free to imagine how Mom and I can find pleasure, new connections and support in this new situation.
Decisions that affect us emotionally and that affect our loved ones can be among the hardest to make. They carry a psychic weight that is wearying. When you face reality and make a difficult decision you will be rewarded with an amazing release of energy. Fence sitting is costly in many ways. With information and support it can be possible to step over the fence and enjoy the benefits of dropping the weight of indecision.