Preparing for Ageing
“Hey Mom, how are you?”
“I’ve had a bit of a fall and I can’t really move very well”, she said.
I was thousands of miles away busy on a project and my mind suddenly stopped dead in its tracks and focused. The questions fired over: “what happened? what do you mean you can’t move very well? have you been to the hospital?” and so it went on…
It was such a simple thing.
My Mom has been over to some friends for a party and she was standing near the edge of the deck and the lady in front of her had slipped and used Mom as support to stope herself falling, only to give Mom the nudge that pushed over the edge. It was only 6” but that was all it took for a lady we later found with Osteopenia to bang her back and break apart one, in fact crush of her vertebrae.
I, she, we weren’t prepared for what lay ahead in every respect.
It caught us by surprise
She was already doing plenty to ensure she stayed in good health for her new found freedoms in her later years. She was eating well, exercising with her little dog, getting her check-ups as recommended by her doctor. But none of it prepared us for the onslaught of Osteopenia, never mind a simple accident.
A few days passed and I made the decision to return home from overseas to help in every way that I could.
I’d been planning what I needed to do on my flight back; researching Osteopenia, learning what could be and thinking how i could help prepare her environment without coming at it like a “bull in a china shop” that would make her feel no longer in control.
1. First-up was her home
The stairs were steep but narrow and without room for a future chairlift. Her bathroom had its easy access shower, the kitchen packed full of items that had come from the Silver Generation and included a lot of stuff. I needed to rearrange to bring to the front those items she’d need regularly. There were plenty of hazards/danger zones. I’d found she had various freezers and a reluctance to sell any and so i did some re-arranging so she didn’t have to walk outside in the wind, rain, snow and cold that always lay ahead when winter came around. Even if I held back from all the changes, I said to her we’d need to undertake an annual safety review so we could make the necessary changes as life’s journey through Osteopenia continued.
2. Preventing those falls.
I’ve learnt over the years, everyone learns through experiences, rather than being told. Nevertheless, I decided to do all that I could to prevent her falling/tripping over anything. Rugs, carpets, boxes, little ornaments collected over the years all lay in wait for her. I carefully and subtly repositioned things through discussion with her. The irony would be that here first learning/reminder experience of the dangers of a fall would be to come from her every loving, ever doting little dog. My mom would get up, walk a couple of yards and before she knew it, little ‘Poppy’ would wake from a deep sleep and be there right behind her out of sight, ready to trip her up!
And she sure did, but thankfully without too much damage. It was the fright that she needed…
At the end of the day, a fall can be a very big deal for older people — they often result in fractures that can lead to disability, further health problems, or even death. Safety precautions are important, but so are exercises, building muscle strength so you/we can respond quicker to danger that can be upon us in a second. We need to keep improving our balance and strength.
3. Discussing the future environment
One day I sat with her to discuss the future – I’d chose my moment. We went out to a local little place for lunch and her favorite Gin & Tonic. I wanted to explore the possibility at some point of being in an Assisted Living Facility (ALF). It was handled politely but ended in a resounding ‘no’.
She was lucky – several years previously she’d moved to a small community that respected privacy but was nosy enough to know what was going on with everyone. You didn’t move there unless you were prepared for that!
But the community was incredible. Everyone was there for you. They checked in on you, they shared meals, shared news that might others. There was a real sense of community and her neighbor was amazing. Each day she’d come over to check on her – not just from a functional perspective, but from a psychological perspective. Always stopping to talk, to chat and to focus on positives.
Each week her groceries were being delivered and the delivery guys would bring everything in and even partially pack things away. Great service and certainly for the time being, no reason to press on the need for an ALF.
Her response showed fight, showed determination and for it was that drive to stay out of the ALFs that could be used to get her back to some form of normal living.
4. Thinking ahead to what might be needed.
She’d been a passionate cook and I’d always had fond memories of my home comfort food, but we were now entering a new world. A world where she had to, in the main, think of food as fuel. How could she receive the nutrition that would help strengthen her bones, help give her energy, but as important how could she prepare those meals?
Getting around? It was driving as she could handle that. She needed that for her independence. But it was getting in’n’out of the vehicle with such severe back problems.
My wife came up with the idea of a plastic bag! Yes, it was carefully positioned on the driver’s seat. She’d sit on it with her legs on the road/sidewalk and then learnt to spin around with the aid of the plastic slippery surface. It was yet another brilliant idea from my wife and she felt the need to remind me 🙂
One day, when my Mom went out however—it was a little embarrassing to find it had accompanied her as she walked down the road, stuck firmly to the base of her sweater! I did remind my wife it was her idea!
And there was so much more to discuss: home repair – thinking about mechanical, electrical, plumbing and landscaping needs around the home. Who does she know, are they easy to reach?
Housecleaning? Who will do that and to my Mom’s standards? We had to make preparations!
Financial tasks: my Father who had passed away a few years before had always handled this, but now it was over to Mom. We discussed an easy system and talked through how we could transition to a more digital platform to ease her workload.
5. Planning for those emergencies.
Who could she call in an emergency? Was there someone who could check in on her daily? What would she do if she fell and couldn’t reach the phone? We invested in a personal alarm system and of course accidentally tested one too many times, but at least we knew it worked!
We mapped out the emergency numbers in her cell and in her landline handset. I taught her the modern internet ways of reaching people via voice, video or text. It took some time but she started to feel part of the modern world, not being left behind.
6. Write advance care directives.
Advance care directives, such as a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, and a health care proxy, allow you to explain the type of medical care you want if you’re too sick, confused, or injured to voice your wishes. We didn’t enjoy the discussion but with Gin & Tonic in hand she got through it!
Today, with Ostepenia developed now officially to Osteoporosis, life has gotten a little harder but she’s adapting and still enjoys her independence, her freedom to make the most of life.
I was pleased to be there to help. If I hadn’t been, there is always a caregiver around the corner to help you through all the planning.