Yvonne* might indeed be choking back tears as she says adamantly, "It was painful!" She is talking about the period of time several months before, when she went through the difficult process of moving her mother into a Guelph retirement home. The painful aspects were multi-faceted: convincing her mother that the time was right, getting her entire family on board with the move, packing and moving her mom's things from the house she had lived in for more than 40 years. Then there was the actual move and the family's collective need for adjustment.
No one will ever promise you that moving parents into a retirement home will be simple. But there does come a time.
For Yvonne, the timing was something she understood well. Yvonne has worked in healthcare for over two decades and understood that her mom was reaching a breaking point. She says, "You see the signs that she was not taking care of herself. And because she was not taking care of herself, she was getting little sores that were obvious. So I knew that she was not getting the care she needed."
In addition, there had been two health care incidents. In the first, her sister fortunately came to the rescue, but a second episode was a turning point. Yvonne was with her mom when she fainted suddenly. Yvonne called 911 and things were fine at that point, but she knew it was time to make another call. Her mom lived on her own, two hours away from any of her kids (in their family home outside Chatham), and no one could check on her regularly. It would be dire if she fainted again without anyone around.
"We got her to commit to taking a trial stay, and so that, too, was a big deal for her, to come all the way out here. And, you know, it took some talking," she laughs. "But we got her to just… give it a try!" While her mother was in a trial stay at a nearby retirement residence, the family got together and began to pack up her things, attending to their mom as the two-week stay went along. No matter how the stay went, her mother could no longer live alone in her own home. She agreed that the retirement home was, "at least in some ways, a better place to be."
At first, the adjustment was difficult for her mother, as can be expected. "It was the little things that were hardest," says Yvonne. Little adjustments in familiarity and expectations were big things for her mother. "If you've been in the same home for so many years, you know that the Christmas ornaments are under the stairs. It might seem like a small thing, but all the things she's accumulated in life were not where she was looking. She found that frustrating." The new noises of her new home were some of the most upsetting things to adjust to: the roll of a cleaning cart down the hallway at 9 pm, or the different sounds outside, in what was a strange city.
After three months, though, Yvonne was happy – in fact, exuberant – to report that "mom is flourishing! I think she has totally adjusted! We took her back to her house before we finally sold it, and she told us, 'This is not my home anymore. I have a new home.'"
Her mom found that some of her old Chatham friends had also moved on, but she didn't really miss them. Missing her old home was not a factor at all. She no longer missed her things and she has indeed fallen in love with life in her retirement home. "In her new neighbourhood she has lots of friends, and she even says they’re better, nicer friends than she's ever had. And, you know, the nice thing is that they're all right there, just outside the door of her suite. She really loves that. And she really appreciates that she could never have that anywhere other than in a retirement home."
Some worries end but others persist
Yvonne is honest, though, that having her mom in senior care is expensive. "We didn't even move her into one of the most expensive homes. … But sure, we worry about the money." In many cases, when people move into a retirement home, they improve their outlook and suddenly feel (and are) healthier than they have been in years. Retirement homes do improve lifestyle and extend people's lives. That's a promise they make, and proudly, as they should!
As Yvonne admits, though, "That's one of the struggles that families face. How do they know if it's the right thing to do? These decisions are not easy and there are no simple, one-size-fits-all answers for families. Including ours, we might find out." Still, Yvonne has no regrets at all, and she loves that her mom is indeed flourishing and that she is happier than she has been in some time.
Now, she "loves every minute of it"
"My mom was one of those people who used to say, 'I want to die in my own home.'" Moving into a contemporary retirement home changed her mind about all that.
In the end, it's the many little things make her mother's new life great. Yvonne says, "she tells me, 'You know, I used to spend an hour every day just making supper – planning the meal, buying the food, making it, cleaning up… all of that all by myself.'" Now her mom realizes that all that trouble was just not worth it. "'Now, I eat differently every day, and I eat with different people every day.' She's also put on weight – in a positive way. She'd been underweight when she was living alone. And she says she loves every meal. In fact, she loves every minute of it."
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.