headshot of Kim and Mike Barnes
Kim and Mike Barnes
KIm and Mike Barnes

My mom’s Alzheimer’s disease was getting bad enough that my sister and I talked to our dad about looking into moving mom into memory care. He put us in charge, and it seemed as if it was going to be an easy task.

Four memory care communities were within a couple of miles of the independent living community where they lived. We knew the budget to work under, and we had powers of attorney and other legal documents if they were needed.

This was going to be like a flashback to looking for an apartment in my 20s. Make sure the closet and the bathroom are good, and let’s seal the deal!

Then we walked into the first memory care place, and we were so overwhelmed.

What questions should we ask? What should we look for? What are the red flags?

The second place was similar. So was the third. Should I ask a question like, “How’s the pudding?” That didn’t seem right.

We looked at four places. At one of them, my sister got a tiny bit emotional when talking about Mom’s condition, and one of the women who worked there gave her a hug. My sister and I walked out, looked at each other, and said, “Well, they were nice.”

That’s the place where we moved my mom, and she’s still there today.

Yes, it shows that a hug can go a long way. But it also shows that most of us prospects have no idea what we’re doing, and we need some help and some guidance. Don’t assume that we’re on top of everything because we’re acting smart and knowledgeable. We may be faking it!

I like to compare it with having your first baby. When my wife and I had our first, I barely knew how to change a diaper. Other stuff — such as supporting the neck and patting the back and watching them learn to roll over and crawl and walk — all were like a foreign language. But everyone we knew had advice. Neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives all had suggestions about making sure the baby was going to grow up to be a great adult.

But when our parents start having trouble and are trying to use a walker or a cane, or they have incontinence or memory problems, you usually have silence. No one talks about it. It’s depressing. It’s bad news. It’s not fun to bring up in conversation. There usually isn’t a celebration at the end like when a baby takes those first steps.

Because of that, most of us who are adult children with aging parents are kind of in the dark.

A place for information and support

That’s a big reason why we created our Facebook group, Parenting Aging Parents. It’s a place where people can ask those embarrassing questions or vent about those frustrating times and not feel so alone.

You can compare it with being shy or introverted. Sometimes, you want the social interaction but are uncomfortable taking those steps. That’s the case so many times when you have an aging parent who’s not doing well. You want more information; you just don’t know how or what to ask.

What if one of those memory care establishments had a handout for us that didn’t just talk about the great bedrooms and the community atmosphere but also explained what happens to people with dementia? Or maybe assisted living places have a once-monthly Q&A for the families of prospective members to answer questions about the difference between home care and home healthcare and what is provided in different types of assisted living?

For so many of us, there’s some sense of relief when we think we’ve found a place for our parents to move. But there’s also a feeling of guilt.

My mom moved to memory care in March 2021. Since then, she often complains to my dad about why she’s there. Her Alzheimer’s has gotten worse and, like all of us, she has good days and bad days. But the people who take care of her know her and her personality. They also know my dad and my sister and me.

It makes a difference.

My dad gets excited when he receives an email with the community’s monthly newsletter. He’ll forward it to me when he sees a picture of my mom. She’ll be drawing or wearing a holiday hat or using her green thumb in the garden. It helps reassure Dad that Mom’s being well taken care of and is in the right place.

I’ll feel the same way when I go in from out of town to visit and they warn me when I walk in that Mom’s not having a good day. I’ll know I may have a challenge on my hands, but I also know that I have a chance to get through.

On a recent visit, the executive director warned me as I walked toward my mom, “We’re not having a good day.”

The first words out of Mom’s mouth were, “I don’t recognize you.” The next words were, “Are you my brother?” And then it was, “Why are you here?”

She didn’t know her only son. That doesn’t excite you when you show up for a visit. But we sat at a table and talked. I told her a couple of stories about her grandkids, whom she didn’t remember. She asked where I lived. We laughed about silly stuff. I answered the same questions over and over and over again.

When she walked me back to the front door for me to leave, she seemed to have a quick sense of clarity and said, “You know, if you have to be in a place like this, they do a good job.”

Hearing something like that is very settling for your soul. And you usually don’t get that when you have aging parents.

Thank you to everyone in the senior living field whose work leads to such a feeling.

After 30 years as television journalists, Kim and Mike Barnes have a new mission: to broadcast a message of support and to undercut the confusion surrounding care for aging parents. Through their free Facebook group, expert interviews and guide for gathering essential information, Parenting Aging Parents provides access to the knowledge desperately needed for adult children.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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