As I wrote when I discussed my Grandma Schneider in my post of January 10, 2014 and my Aunt Gert in my post of January 16, 2015, many people seem revolted at the thought of moving into a nursing home or putting a loved one into a nursing home. I’ve heard many people speak of seniors abandoned in nursing homes living, seemingly forgotten and alone. My family’s experience with nursing homes is just the opposite. Yet, we struggled with the decision on where my Grandma should live after her broken hip.
In case you’re trying to draw the family tree, Grandma is my mom’s mom. Grandma Schneider is Grandma Cook’s mother-in-law (by her first husband) and my mom’s paternal grandmother. Aunt Gert is Grandma Cook’s sister-in-law by marrying Grandma Cook’s brother.
Grandma Cook was 92 when she broke her hip and needed rehab. Deciding where to go for rehab wasn’t a big deal. We knew and she knew that she needed rehab. Mom and her brother chose a nursing home close to my mom’s house but not so far from my uncle’s house as to be inconvenient for him. So there she went for rehab.
Now, this wasn’t “rehab” for Medicare payment purposes. This was honest to goodness rehab. Grandma got better and, after rehab, could go home. She would need a walker, but she could go home. Anticipating that her rehab would be complete, we faced a difficult choice of where Grandma should live.
All through rehab, Grandma talked about going back home. She talked about things she would do when she moved back home. She certainly didn’t seem to dislike her nursing home stay for rehab. She didn’t complain. On the contrary, she enjoyed the activities, the staff, and (most of) the other people in her nursing home. Still, throughout her rehab, she continued to talk about going home.
Similarly, throughout Grandma’s rehab, Mom, my sisters, my uncle, and I talked about Grandma going home. We didn’t talk about it as a foregone conclusion, like Grandma did. We talked about what we could do to facilitate her return home.
We talked about whether she could get in and out of her house because there were stairs at both the front and back doors. We talked about a home care service and how many hours of care she might need. We talked about whether she’d accept the person from a home care service into her house. We talked about the need to have a way for Grandma to get out of the house frequently.
Before her broken hip, Grandma was out of the house almost every day that the weather permitted. She was up and out in the morning for breakfast with friends. Then she would go to the senior center to play cards or bingo and participate in an exercise class. She would have lunch (and frequently serve lunch) at the senior center. After her afternoon activities (at the senior center, or visiting with a friend, or shopping,) she’d return home before dark. If Grandma were going to return home after rehab, we needed to find a way for her to maintain as much of her schedule as possible. So, the home care aide would need also to be her driver. Otherwise, her return home would be a failure.
We considered having Grandma move in with Mom or my uncle. Unfortunately, both Mom’s house and my uncle’s house had steps in the living areas of the house. Grandma wouldn’t be able to live in either house without risking the steps or being limited to certain parts of the house. Neither of those options seemed a good idea.
We also considered finding Grandma an apartment or a new house that didn’t require steps to get in and out. Our concern was Grandma’s emotional and psychological comfort in a new place. Grandma’s memory was slipping a little. (If she had Alzheimer’s or anything similar, it was very LATE onset, it seemed to us medical laypeople. To us, Grandma seemed sharp as she could be until she was about 90 years old.) Because of her slipping memory, we really worried about taking her into a new home.
While we were still pondering what seemed best for Grandma (still during her rehab,) Thanksgiving came. My mom and I picked up Grandma and brought her to Mom’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. She barely could stay at Mom’s for two hours. She didn’t even stay long enough for dinner. She wanted to get back to her nursing home. She was afraid she was missing something.
That Thanksgiving was an epiphany for us in our decision-making. We wondered if Grandma really wanted to return to her house.
A couple of weeks after Thanksgiving, when Mom had Grandma out for lunch and some shopping, Mom took Grandma to her house. Mom pulled up in front of the house and asked Grandma if she wanted to move back in. Grandma sat there in silence, looking at the house for a few minutes. Then she told Mom that she wanted to stay in the nursing home.
Mom then asked Grandma if she wanted to go in the house. Grandma said, “no.” She didn’t care to go in. She was ready to go back to the nursing home.
On the short ride back to the nursing home and during the rest of Mom’s visit that day, Grandma didn’t seem to be at all sad about her decision. When it was time for the afternoon activity, off Grandma went without a second thought.