Wednesday, July 15, 2009


G'ma's moving.

Living in her apartment in the Old Folks Home hasn't turned out to be as independent an experience as we'd hoped it would have been. She fell the first night she was in Arizona, and her first six months here were a nightmare of drugs and falls and rehab and surgeries and hospitalizations and home care. Even with a Life-Alert button around her neck and directions to and from the dining room taped to her walker, being alone didn't feel safe. Not to either of us. After several missteps, we found the perfect solution in 3 Mexican sisters who've adopted her as their own. Birthday parties, bbq's, movies, trips to the mall - G'ma was included in all of it. Their children loved having another grandmother with whom to share their treasures and their ouchies, and G'ma loved the attention.

If only it didn't come at such a high price. You don't want to under-pay your caregiver, whether a babysitter or someone looking after your mother. You want to give them time off for doctor appointments and court appearances and anniversary dinners and 2 week vacations to see their mother. You want to be sure the pantry is stocked with their favorite chips and sodas and you have to be sure to invite them along when you're going out for dinner or to a show. They are always around - which is a good thing and an annoying thing. A quiet evening without them doesn't mean you can avoid paying them for the time. Suddenly, dinner and a movie with G'ma becomes a pricey expedition.

And she really doesn't need someone staring at her 24/7/365. Now that the narcotic analgesics are a thing of the past, she's stable on her feet and comfortable moving around in her own space. She still can't remember how to get to the dining room, or whether she's been to the dining room, but she can find NCIS or Law and Order on her basic cable package and making a snack of milk and cookies is still within her capabilities. Somewhere between full-time caregiving and total alone-ness lies the answer.

If only our society were set up to provide what she needs. I pondered and searched and questioned and read and listened and then, one day, I heard Bill Thomas on NPR and I began to smile again. His thesis is simple - the elderly feel more comfortable in a home-like environment. Old people should not have to share a toilet with anyone else. Systems should respond to the residents' needs, rather than having the residents adapt to the system. He calls his small facilities Green Houses and they are popping up all around the country. While not inexpensive, they are much less pricey than full-time in-home care.

So, after getting her blood drawn and having pizza and salad we visited a new pod-castle for the elderly. 5 one-story buildings, each with 16 apartments, 4 on each leg of an H. The kitchen is in the center of the pod, the heart of the house, just as it should be. There's a living room with comfy furnishings and a fireplace, a multi-purpose room with a huge flat screen tv, a game table and a computer ("We LOVE helping residents read their grandchildren's emails!") and a back yard (astro-turfed) and a front yard and rocking chairs all over the place. Her apartment will have a shaded patio, expanded basic cable, and the coolest window shades I've ever seen (no strings - you push or pull from the center and voila!). She can sleep til 10 and they'll make her breakfast when she strolls down the hall. If she doesn't like the main course at dinner, they'll make her something she does want. Guests can join her for any meal without charge ("You wouldn't charge your company for dining at your own home, would you?") and the grandkids can sleep on her sofabed for as long as they care to visit. Her Life-Alert button can be pressed, not only for emergencies, but to ask for a milk-shake or for company. Loneliness, the bane of the elderly, is vanquished.

The owners are custom home builders with a passion for people. It's rare to find a facility where the doors all close flush to the sills and the carpet and tile is laid perfectly. And there's always one of them on-site. They schmooze with the residents and bring in their pets and their novels and their artwork to share.

Best of all, it felt good to us. Everyone who passed us in the hallways smiled and said "Hi!". Every single person. And they made eye contact. They didn't look like they had to be at work, they looked like they wanted to be there.

And G'ma wants to be there, too. She trusts my judgement, but she has her own opinions. It's nice when my judgement and her opinions coincide.

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