Tale as old as time…

vintage momdad
Parents, the younger years. Classic!

Real estate can be all about numbers, investment, return, mortgages et al, it’s also about home, family, security, community, so, in that vein, a more personal post:

Senior care: something many of us deal with, some more up close and personal than others—I’m an only child, the up close and personal has been my last decade.

The nutshell: my father passed away nearly ten years ago, my mother was 79 at the time. For years I lived in Toronto, three hours from my parents, after my dad’s death I drove the six hour round trip every few weekends to spend time. Several years later, needing more company and support, I bought a house outside Toronto and moved my mom to our place—fast forward four more years we needed to move home to Toronto. Mom always game for an adventure agreed, we’ve rented a condo in the building beside ours so I can quickly go back and forth. She loved it, enjoyed having her space again, watching Toronto life from her balcony was far more engaging than anything TV offered (except maybe Food Network).

Six months into the Toronto set up things shifted again, and quickly—my mother now requires health care support in home, several visits a day, fall alert monitoring and meal prep. If you’ve been down this road you know some seniors do not like to plan the last phase, my parents were in that camp. Yes indeed, we’ve reached this late stage and do not have a retirement home lined up but more on that another time…

The changes are many—leaving a family home can be devastating and giving up driving represents letting go of that last vestige of independence (tackled that one several years ago). Talk of in home help can rankle and while I want to respect ‘I can manage just fine!’ the proclamation does ring hollow, and risky, at a point. Talk of retirement and nursing homes? Understandably my mother has made every effort to avoid, she’s one of those almost always sunny personalities but would go silent if this, or any, talk of future cropped up.

So, what to do? I’m not saying it’s easier if you have siblings but perhaps a united front of care and concern from several holds a little more sway; from one? not so much…and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to more than a few sibling fantasies of “I’ve done my time, your turn.”

My mother, like most seniors, declared “I’m not going to fall, I’m always careful” and yet we’ve had three falls in the past several weeks. First on the list—look into a fall alert system. Philips LifeLine, LifeAssure (Canadian), AlarmForce are but three I looked into. There are standard response systems and upgrades to include fall alert. Be sure to ask about phone systems: my mother has a landline but it’s internet based, VOIP, some systems require use of the upgraded plans to use something other than a traditional landline.

While there are challenges with Ontario health care I know, my experience has been entirely positive: my father’s cancer diagnosis came quickly and he had a fantastic palliative care team, in my mother’s case CCAC responded quickly with case worker meeting, occupational therapist, daily nursing and specialty nurse. Her GP has been a great support, she’s fit us in at the last minute and we had ultrasounds within 1.5 weeks. Yes, you also need to be a little pushy; my parents would not advocate for their own care, my mother now lives with significant hearing loss and cannot walk—I’m ears, eyes, legs and mouthpiece.

Community Care Access Centre better known as CCAC: there are 14 of these centres in various Ontario cities, call them, they are key. You can register your senior with a name, address and health card number, a case worker will come to the home to visit, to suss out the issues, the level of support needed. The service is voluntary i.e. your senior will agree to receiving the help or not, no one is forced; in my mother’s case she’d begun to get nervous about doing some things on her own and was receptive (I did try two years ago feeling she could use a hand with bathing for one, it didn’t fly).

An occupational therapist from CCAC can assess how your senior lives and gets around the home. In my mother’s case a wheelchair was provided and her old walker will be replaced, given it’s more than five years old a provincial benefit will cover about 50% of the replacement cost. Ask about every potential benefit offered! If you’re unsure where to go and who to ask simply go to a Shopper’s Home Health Care store, they can advise on what benefits you might qualify for. For a fee Shopper’s can send someone to your senior’s home to assess the device currently in use whether old walker or old wheelchair and start the replacement process. The therapist suggested a  ‘super pole’ tension rod, a floor to ceiling support that helps with getting out of bed, in the bathroom, in my mother’s case by her living room easy chair though we had to pass on this, it can leave damage on stippled ceilings as is the case with my mother’s rental. Mobility is her primary issue: risers are making the exit from her recliner easier on her rather destroyed arthritic knees.

We all know a fall is the most common concern with seniors and the bathroom can be a minefield. We have the elevated toilet seat with support arms, the transfer bench for the tub with handheld shower (and, courtesy CCAC, bathing support help).

We were referred to a day program (ask CCAC or your doctor) that helps seniors with movement and fall prevention, this is the one thing so far with a lengthy wait list of up to six months, inquire early if it’s something you think could help. I expect my mother will not opt for the program anyway, not a fan of group activity she’s been agreeable to much, it’s important to leave some autonomy where you can.

As with all else in modern life, we have Google! While you’re googling various senior supports do also take a look at the Government of Ontario’s page offering guidance on available programs and services.

It can be a tough, tiring road, as my partner has said countless times, ‘breathe’. Not everyone will logistically be able to do this in the same way, nor would you want to necessarily and that absolutely isn’t a judgment, each situation is different, relationships can be complicated.

Truthfully, I’ve likely left too much up to my mother. Big one—we should not have purchased a condo for her after my father passed away. Leaving our family home was stressful, she’d lost her husband of 54 years, I wanted her to have a happy-in-a-different-way next phase. She could afford to buy a condo and she’d be safer but at that age you know longevity is not on your side, short term home ownership rarely works in your financial favour, a rental would’ve been smarter. And, while I’ll always be grateful for our additional time and memories some days I’m not sure I’d do the live-in again (consider a separate suite)—not an easy truth to face but it’s not an easy path. It’s been financially and emotionally challenging (make sure you have a very supportive spouse!), you find yourself 100% grateful for time together, for the greater sense of security your senior feels but it is hard. Rarely are there clear solutions in any of this…understatement.

It’s a long, complex road and, at this age, rife with rapid change. If you’ve been through something similar I’d love to hear about it, it can be a rather solitary road.

Thanks for reading and following along.

My mother’s motto, akin to denial at times 🙂 

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