Do seniors with mild dementia belong in independent living?

Taking a cue from the hot weather, I’m hoping that this red-hot encounter—and its successful conclusion—will help caregivers whose family members are having trouble adjusting to life in a retirement community.

The protagonists:

Two high-powered women on a hot day in a small, hot retirement home office:

‘This is not acceptable behavior, and is unfair to our other residents’

‘She’s paying you $5,000 a month – if her money’s good enough for you, why isn’t she?’

The issue:

Lillian, a resident with mild dementia, living in the ‘independent living’ wing, was showing signs of self-neglect, particularly in dressing. Table-mates complained of a ‘pissy’ odour; summer T-shirts revealed she was not wearing a bra. It also seemed evident that she was not brushing her teeth, although her lipstick was applied with enthusiasm. Her hair was wild and unbrushed, with three-inch roots.

The resident had no immediate family, and Power of Attorney for Care was held, reluctantly, by the daughter of an old friend.

What made the exchange so heated? Clearly, each woman had an agenda that was complicating the real issue.

The residence’s general manager was frustrated.

The residence was two years old, and her mandate was clear – lease ‘em up! The neighbourhood offered lots of alternatives but they were older buildings, more targeted to older, chronically ill folks, requiring heavy care.

Meanwhile, the Power of Attorney had her own concerns.

Was this the beginning of a slippery slope into long-term care? What was the paperwork needed, what were the waiting lists like, how much would it cost, and was there enough? Would she have to raid her parent’s nest egg to help their friend?

Yikes – a cool head was needed here!

The backstory:

They tried to pinpoint where the issue really began—in the morning, when Lillian was getting dressed for her day. Where did the process fail?

The residence had tried providing a personal care worker in the morning to help Lillian shower and wash her hair, brush her teeth and dress. Nothing doing! She violently resisted so the staff backed off.

Otherwise, though, with minimal ‘cuing’, Lillian was able to engage in her community, going to meals and activities, checking her mail, taking the odd stroll outside.

The solution:

Was the morning routine the only impediment to her staying in independent living? If so, what was the magic bullet that would help her accept that care?

The first idea was to remove the term ‘care’; she was not ill, and was insulted by the implication. Lillian loved to read Vogue and was interested in fashion. Could the world of fashion give any clues?

A local franchise offering support ‘by seniors to seniors’ was consulted. Did they have anyone who would help ‘put Lillian together’ in the morning, from a ‘Hollywood stylist’ perspective?

Bingo. A  65-year-old retired fashion director was introduced to Lillian. Right away they began talking fashion and going through Lillian’s closet. Visits were set up for alternate mornings—shower, hair blow-dry, getting dressed and setting out the clothes for tomorrow. A shopping trip for new underwear, a session at the onsite hairdresser all renewed Lillian’s sense of pride in her appearance and increased her confidence.

No more reports of an unkempt resident, no need for panicked placements—a hot issue, now cooled down!


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Can't afford to move to a retirement community? Here's help.

Do you know someone who had trouble adjusting to life in a retirement home? How did you work things out? Share your solutions in a Comment below.

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