Adjusting to long-term care can be challenge for elderly

Q: My family was pretty happy when our mother was finally accepted into the residence of a long-term care facility for seniors living in our town. Mom had been living for years on her own in the little house she and our dad picked up when they moved into town, just before he died.

Her health has been poor for some time, but it took a gigantic effort to get her to admit that she had health problems. Then, we had to go through what seemed like a lengthy waiting list to get her into the home.

It is done now and what a relief it is to know that someone is there to look after her.

Of course it is not 100 percent rosy. One of the nurses took by husband aside when he was visiting Mom the other day and said to him that the staff is concerned that my mom is hoarding food and perhaps other utensils from the dining room.

Apparently, the staff is expecting us to speak to Mom and to encourage her to leave well enough alone there. I think that she took some peanut butter packs along with sugar and some slices of bread. She hides this stuff in her room, which is where the staff found it.

I am not sure what to say to Mom, but I don’t want to let this go and get on the wrong side of the care staff there. What do you suggest?

A: I think it is great that you and your family were able to work together to get your mom into a safer and healthier setting. You must have had some scary moments when she was sitting alone in that little house and struggling with those inevitable health issues that come with aging. A lot of your concerns will be resolved now.

But don’t forget that just because you are more comfortable with your mom’s new home it does not mean that she is.

This has been a big step for her. She knows that this is likely her last move and could well be the onset of some very serious health issues for her. It is not something to which she can look forward. Of course, she does not want to disappoint you and she is not going to say anything but if you listen closely to what she has to say, you will likely find stress and anxiety, perhaps even a little depression. She might need some permission from you or whomever in the family to talk about those feelings. She is not likely to resolve them by trying to deny them.

If your mother was not into hoarding in her little house then you need to understand a little more clearly about what she is trying to do in the long-term care facility.

Much of what she is doing is her attempt to adapt to her new conditions. Most long-term care facilities are understaffed and underfunded. She knows that and she knows that she cannot expect more from the staff. You and your family might have to step up a bit more.

People pilfer food because they are hungry. Maybe you need to make sure that she has some fruit or what not in her room for a bigger bedtime snack.

People get anxious because they are lonely. Most people your mom is meeting are not those with whom she made egg salad sandwiches in the church basement. You might have to drive her over to her friends’ houses occasionally.

At her age many of those little trips are opportunities to say good-bye.

Finally, people in your mom’s position get frustrated because they have signed over control over their lives to someone else and they feel helpless and hopeless. I don’t think that you should let that nurse pull you aside to talk to you about concerns she and the staff have for your mom. Your mom needs to be a part of that conversation as do you and maybe if all of you are talking and negotiating together, your mother will have some sense of control over her own destiny, and wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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