When Your Parent Depends on You
Deciding what's best for an ailing parent is tough. But there are more options now than just the nursing home.
When David Ruttan's father died, his 78-year-old mother's plight worried
him. "She was very isolated. They had very few friends," said Ruttan, a
California resident. "We were concerned about her driving abilities, and
you could tell that she wasn't quite mentally there. She was becoming
repetitive. We weren't sure if it was part of the grieving process or something
Eventually, Lois Ruttan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and her son
had to face the truth: the mother who once cared for him was no longer able to
live on her own.
It's often painful for adult children to talk to an aging parent about loss
of capabilities, even when the signs are everywhere: stove burners left on,
medication doses missed, wandering, getting lost, being unable to reach the
toilet in time.
"They don't want to see the change in their parent. They don't want to
make their parent angry. They don't want to offend their parent's dignity,"
says Suzannah Chandler, LMSW, executive director of Search and Care, a New York
nonprofit organization that helps the elderly live at home.
But Chandler says it's important for both parties -- parents and children --
to plan for the day when parents are no longer able to live independently.
In Ruttan's case, discussions about his mom's future went smoothly --
almost. "There was only one bump in the road. She became ballistic when I
took away her car," he says. "It was really heart-wrenching."
When he and his mother decided on an assisted-living facility, he fretted.
"When I first walked into the place, I was so scared. Is this the right
place for my mother? Am I incarcerating her? All these questions were flying
through my mind."
Fortunately for Ruttan, assisted living proved to be just what his mother
needed. As her Alzheimer's progressed, staff members were there to supervise
her and lend a hand with daily tasks.
While home-care aides can come into an older person's home to assist with
housekeeping, shopping, cooking, and other tasks, it's not always enough.
Sometimes, aging parents need a new living arrangement with more care and
companionship. Nursing homes, with their round-the-clock, comprehensive care,
are hardly the only option.
In between, you and your parent have many choices to investigate, from
temporary housing set up on your property to continuing care communities that
will house your parent through all stages of old age.