Don’t Step on My New Velcro Shoes

Sometimes simple solutions to everyday challenges elude us because we’re so busy “doing” that we can’t “pause to reflect” (or in my case remember) what needs to be changed in order to make life easier.

Take Grandpa’s new Velcro shoes, for instance. They’re highly preferable over the tie-on shoes he was released from the nursing home with (those shoes never belonged to him anyway), but it took me a while to remember to purchase a new pair when I was out running errands.

During one of his therapy sessions, Grandpa became exasperated when his foot kept slipping out from underneath him. He was practicing transferring from a sitting position in his wheelchair to a standing position at his walker. He needed T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N, and he needed it now! So off to the store I went to purchase a pair of Velcro shoes.

When I got home, I tossed the old shoes out the back door at the garbage can, only I missed. I had intended to throw them away before I left, but it was late and I forgot. It rained that night and the nursing home resident’s name that was written on the side (let’s just call him John Doe), vanished by morning.

I assumed the name was written in permanent marker, but it wasn’t, illustrating the sad reality that nothing is permanently yours at the nursing home (I know, because Grandpa told me so).

For some reason, probably the injustice we felt as a family that Grandpa was sent home in someone else’s shoes, we never quite read whose name was inscribed on them. For eight months, we used those shoes day-in-and-day-out, and it never occurred to me to commit the poor owner’s name to memory (Hey, if the shoe fits, wear it, right?).

After he tried his new shoes on, Grandpa asked me if I had saved the old shoes.

“No, I threw them away.” I replied disdainfully.

“You never know when you’ll need them,” he quipped (remember, Grandpa was nine years old when the Great Depression hit).

Normally, I would have been a little more frugal, but, honestly, I didn’t plan on ever needing “John Doe’s” shoes again. They were an old pair of Dockers and it was frustrating to have to tie and untie them several times a day. And believe it or not, Grandpa pretty much wore the soles down. Don’t ask me how, but he did.

Come to think of it, maybe there wasn’t much of a sole left on the Dockers to begin with. Maybe John Doe was a senior marathon runner or nursing home dance instructor. I regret, I’ll never know.

Isn’t this just another example of how devalued our seniors citizens are? Shouldn’t their personal belongings be returned to their families after they die? Maybe John Doe was blessed to have his family permanently bring him home, and somehow his Dockers were accidentally left behind. I doubt it. But it does make me wonder, who’s wearing Grandpa’s shoes at the nursing home right now?

Suffice it to say, Velcro shoes – friends of both young and old – have made life easier for everyone at our house, especially Grandpa.

Tender Loving Care

The level of care my father receives is called “skilled nursing” by the professionals. I don’t think these two words necessarily have to go together. Anyone can become skilled at taking care of their elderly loved one, and not every need they have will be medical. So let me encourage you that you don’t have to be a nurse to take care of your elderly parent.

What the nursing home means when they use the term skilled nursing is that they provide both of these services and everything in-between. Personal hygiene assistance, help with dressing, medical monitoring, dispensing of medicine,  plus therapy and exercise classes are all provided under one roof at the nursing home facility.

The important thing for you to know is that these services are available to you for a limited time when you first bring your elderly parent home. Trained occupational and physical therapists, as well as medical nurses who monitor vital signs are all available to train you in what you need to know to achieve and maintain optimum health for your parent.

When we brought dad home, they sent staff to our house to make sure that we had the equipment we needed to take care of him. A hospital bed, wheelchair and walker were immediately ordered for us. This equipment was all covered by medicare. My brother had the bathroom tub ripped out and a handicap assessable shower installed. Medicare does not cover bathroom renovations for handicap purposes. This is a cost you will incur yourself, but can be written-off at tax time.

With the help of these professionals, you will figure out what you need for your particular situation. My brother spent some time in the physical therapy room at the nursing home, observing and video taping my father on the exercise equipment. He bought some of the same equipment for a reasonable price off of Craig’s List, and had it delivered to Grandpa’s home. It is very important to help your parent get the physical therapy he needs to stay strong. My father is a highly motivated individual and he loves to work out almost every day.

As far as care goes, it doesn’t take a nursing degree to fill a pill box or give your parent a shower. These are all skills that can be acquired through practice. The term for this kind of care is often called custodial or personal care. The word custodial reminds me of school lockers and shiny hallways. I like the term personal care better. I like to think that I am giving my father the personal, one-on-one care, he deserves and cannot receive from anyone else.

That said, there are health issues unique to the elderly that can progress quickly if you aren’t aware of what’s happening. It’s really important to have a highly recommended geriatric doctor nearby who can answer your questions or refer you to any specialists you may need along the way. If you are taking a loved one out of the nursing home it is really important to get them evaluated to make sure they are not being overly medicated as was the case with my father.

If there is any kind of ongoing health issue, the doctor will assign an independent nursing service to come to your home weekly and help monitor the episode until the threat of danger is over. We have learned so much from the physical therapists and the nurses who have taken care of my father in our home. Their expertise has been invaluable and I think this is one part of the in-home health system that really works.

I hope the future health care bill does not limit this service to the elderly. It has been absolutely vital for bringing us peace of mind as we went from the transition of not knowing exactly what to expect when we first brought Grandpa home, to being able to handle his Parkinson’s issues. Yes, I suppose we could bring him to the doctor more often, but the weekly visits have been invaluable for helping us deal with the numerous health issues that have arisen since Grandpa has been home.

You can do it!

I remember years ago when my father was in assisted living. He had contracted a germ common to seniors called c. diff* that causes diarrhea. He was put into isolation and my siblings and I had to take care of him until it cleared up. I helped change his diapers and ran back and forth to the store to get him anything he needed. The staff said our family (my younger brother, sister, and I) were one the most involved they had ever encountered. As I was changing his diaper one day, one of the CNA’s asked me if I had a nursing degree. “No, I said, “I’m just a mommy. I’ve changed lots of diapers.”

You don’t have to be certified to care for a loved one. Whether you help care for  them in assisted care, the nursing home, in your home or their home, the tender loving care that only you can give will make all the difference in the world.

* Clostridium difficile, often called C. difficile or “C. diff,” is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications. Mayo Clinic staff

Awake Forever

I’ll be ready to go to sleep, but I’ll be awake forever in a new world.

If the doctor says, “He’s failing.” Tell him, “I’m graduating.”

~ John E. Reid, 90 years young

Helping Seniors Find Their Purpose

Purpose. We all need a reason to get up in the morning. That is especially true for seniors.  Miriam Webster defines purpose as: something set up as an object or end to be attained. At the age of 89, Grandpa is writing a book about the 4 1/2 years he spent in a nursing home. It has become his his reason for getting up in the morning.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m taking care of him while everyone else is at church. It is Valentine’s day and he has a pair of real cute red and pink argyles on. It’s funny how simple things like a funny pair of socks make everyone smile.

When we first brought Grandpa home, he couldn’t barely do anything except dictate his stories to me. Some days the stories just poured out of him, other days it was like pulling teeth. Today isn’t such a good day for writing, but he’s been getting so much healthier that he even began writing his stories out longhand.

I could tell this isn’t one of his better mornings, though. He had written a couple of paragraphs on his own, when his eye began to hurt. I asked him if he wanted to dictate the rest of his vignette to me. He said sure, but I thought to myself, I think this is going to be one of those stories that takes forever for him to tell.

Once He was taken of of the drug Benzatropine, he was able to type all of his dicated stories into the computer himself.

Fast forward six months, and Grandpa sits daily at the computer writing, re-writing, copying his dictated pieces out of the notebook and into the computer. He often says,  “Writing is so fun!”

I agree.

Counting the Cost

Most parents joyfully anticipate the addition of a newborn to their family. For the sandwich generation, it’s different. Does anyone really anticipate bringing a parent or grandparent into their home to care for them long term? Isn’t that kind of thinking a little naive? Aren’t old folks better off being tucked away somewhere where they won’t be in the way? And shouldn’t the medical professionals take care of them? After all, isn’t old age a disease?

Taking care of an elderly parent can be challenging, complicated, and downright scary at times. Unlike babies who eventually adapt your family’s routine, the elderly  slow you down and cause you to adapt to theirs. Some describe it as having their lives turned upside down or feeling like life has come to a screeching halt. That’s how I felt when we first brought Grandpa home.

Taking care of Grandpa reminds me of when my children were little, only different. Let’s face it, babies are cute and cuddly and don’t weigh very much. 165 pound Grandpas can be cute, too, but unlike babies, they’re generally viewed as more of a burden than a blessing.

When I was sharing with a friend how we took Grandpa out of the nursing home and how crazy our lives had become as a result, she wisely said, “Selfish people calculate, loving people act.” Her insight brought me peace.

There is a huge difference between calculating the cost and counting the cost. A calculating heart says, What’s in it for me? A heart that counts the cost says, Jesus paid the ultimate price for my freedom. Can I do less for others?

Taking care of Grandpa has drastically changed my life and the lives of my husband and children. I’m glad we didn’t stop to calculate the cost. Seeing Dad alone at the most vulnerable time in his life moved us to act. It has come at a great price to everyone involved, but that’s okay, he’s worth it.

You Light Up My Life

Have you ever had someone’s face light up because you walked into the room? That’s how my day started. I peeked into my dad’s bedroom and said, “Hi Dad!” and his face lit up for joy. Eric was already taking care of him, helping him wake up and get ready for the day, but Dad was groggy and unmotivated to get out of bed. But at the sound of my voice, he turned his head, opened his eyes and his face lit up with joy.

“Good morning, Dad,” I said.

“It is now that you’re here,” he said.

“Eric and I are your friendly CNA’s, here to take care of you,” I joked.

“Let me see, we’re your… “Children, Near, Always,” I said, using the beginning letters from the acronym Certified Nursing Assistant.

Children near always. Do you know what that means to an 89-year-old who’s had to rely on strangers to take care of him for the last four years?

Eric pulled Grandpa up off the bed and he grabbed his walker. Steadying himself, he began his labored journey to the bathroom. Dad has Parkinson’s and it takes him a while to get his motor apparatus in gear.

As they headed for the Friday morning shower, I caught a glimpse of my dad from behind, bent over, pajamas sagging, a tell-tale sign of the soaking wet diaper underneath.

We would have to wash his pajamas and sheets again today.

As I gazed at the scene unfolding before me, the tall grandson securely grasping the safety belt of the little old man hobbling to the bathroom, I commented to Eric, “That’s Jesus, you know.”

“I know,” he replied.

“…I was naked, and you clothed Me…” Mathew 25:36

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