My Unexpected Introduction to Senior Care 101

I am recovering from a total immersion in Senior Care 101, and it's about time.

One evening a couple of months ago, my 94 year-old mother slipped and fell, breaking her left arm, leaving her in pain and unable to get back on her feet. She was on her front walk, trying to make sure a neighbor with Alzheimer's wasn't wandering off.

Passing motorists didn't notice her floundering around in the twilight, she didn't have her cell phone, and no one was out and about on her quiet suburban street. Luckily, she'd been preparing to attend a concert that evening, and when her "ride" showed up, an elderly couple in their 80s, they rushed her to the hospital and stayed with her until my wife and I arrived the next morning. If Mom had fallen in the backyard there's no telling how long she might have waited for someone to come to her aid.

We went into a whirlwind of activity, caring for, feeding, comforting and cajoling a stubbornly independent woman who'd never been sick a day in her life.

Doctors’ appointments were arranged with her internist and osteopath. As fate would have it, her osteopath is part of a sports medicine practice, his clinic filled with huge wall-to-wall NFL and NHL photographs, jerseys and helmets. Seeing her hobble through the hallways inevitably created some cognitive dissonance. The irony was palpable.

Her house was ergonomically triaged to adjust to the new realities: clutter reduced to bare minimum, safety railings installed, trip-conducive carpets and rugs taken up, a "work station" created for her next to her reclining easy chair to accommodate phones, paperwork, address books, glasses, hearing aid batteries, snacks, you name it.

Pain management doctors, visiting nurses, occupational therapists, home health aides, a social worker and Meals on Wheels volunteers became familiar faces. Medicare and long-term care insurance reps, her pharmacist and her bank tellers were in regular communication.

Because her bedroom and master bathroom were on the second floor, for the previous few years I had become increasingly worried about her using the staircase. Reconfiguring the house to ground-floor living was not an option, and she was having noticeably more difficulty well before her mishap. But because she had been so independent for so long, getting her to accept the need for a lift system was a challenge.

After mind-numbing discussions and dissection of choices that threatened to go on forever, I finally "got it." I realized that it was time to simply present an ultimatum to Mom. "I'm deciding, and you are riding!"

The same process began when we insisted she get a medical alert system. TMI on the web, too many choices; my wife cut through the chatter on this one, and made the call.

(My cousin Cindy, who had been through it all twice with her parents, responded to my exasperated account: "LOL! I CAN picture, as I’ve been there…FOCUS, PLLLEEEZZZZ! Or you won’t necessarily LIKE the choices made FOR you…" )

After two weeks we were able to get back home, reasonably assured that Mom was in good hands all around.

None of this is news. Families are confronted with these issues and much worse every day. We were very lucky in that Mom, while debilitated and hurting, was lucid and communicative.

My takeaway: Prepare. "Proactivate." Don't Procrastinate!

Don't be forced to make important decisions in haste and anxiety, and without ready access to materials and information.

Use every resource you can; consult with friends, relatives, neighbors who have experience with senior care issues. Websites abound, gather the information you need, organize the paperwork and procedural guidelines for both long-term planning and crisis management.

We had been lulled into complacency due to my mother's ridiculously robust health and apparent indestructibility. Now we know better - it is about taking the time now to insure that a beloved senior's remaining time is as enjoyable and trouble-free as possible. It's about time.