May 9, 2011

Elder Care: From a granddaughter’s perspective

by

Bubbe photo

That’s my grandmother, my Bubbe. BabyGirl and I went to visit her in December because she doesn’t like to travel. Actually, she loves to travel. Only traveling now is much more complicated since she needs oxygen at night. And then there is all that TSA stuff. So, we go visit her.

I’ve mentioned my grandma before. Last year she celebrated her 90th birthday. She still lives in the only house I’ve ever known. She and my grandpa had it built in 1968. She’s a very independent woman!

Every few weeks I’ll get a call from my aunt, a neighbor, one of my Grandma’s friends asking if she’s visiting me because they can’t get a hold of her. This has been going on for about six months. And every time I tell them no and reassure them that she’s just fine, having spoken to her just days prior. They’ll sigh a sigh of relief, thank me and assure me they’ll stop by her house to be sure she’s fine.

My grandmother has outlived most people she started life with. She has buried both of her children (my mother had a stroke in her 40s and my uncle died of Lupus-related complications in his early 40s) and her husband. Of her seven siblings, only her ‘baby brother’ remains. And he’s in his 80s.

It’s almost weekly now that my grandma tells me she’s going to a funeral. I guess at 90, that’s just part of life. She has very few friends, peers, still living. Most of her friends are significantly younger. Then again, my grandma doesn’t seem to think she’s really 90!

When you’re 90 and live on your own, most people are in awe. I certainly am! After all she’s lived through the Great Depression, wars, conflicts, and 17 presidents. Woodrow Wilson was president when she was born. She’s seen the world change before her eyes. From no television to the ability to stream live events in the palm of her hand. No telephone to its ubiquity.

Yet here I am, the primary responsible party (I use that term loosely because really, my grandma is very responsible for herself) being bombarded with ‘friends’ and relatives telling me she can’t live on her own any more. They have no real reason for that other than she’s 90 and perceived to be frail.

And while I don’t like when my grandma drives, she is as good a driver as most people out there. Her hearing isn’t as keen as it once was but she’s not a danger. She drives no more crazy than she’s always driven. Actually, I think she’s more cautious now because she realizes her hearing isn’t up to par. Truth be told, she’s never caused an accident in all her driving. She’s been involved in accidents, but never the cause. So she’s got that going for her.

Most of the issues relate to her forgetfulness. Some people try to tell me she has Alzheimers. Far from it! Cancer three times, yes. Alzheimers? No. However, she does have symptoms of vascular dementia. But according to her doctors it’s normal given her medical history. Nothing to worry about they keep saying.

I talk to my grandmother several times a week. Her brother talks to her every day. If ever there is a time we can’t find her for 24 hours straight I can call her local police and they’ll check on her. They know her by name. She bakes treats for the precinct every few weeks. If she hasn’t been by in awhile they stop by. It’s like a TV show when she walks in, balancing two big chocolate cakes – cheers of “Hello, Mrs. Greenberg!”, “So nice to see you, Mrs. Greenberg!” and “Thank you, Mrs. Greenberg!” echo in the stark halls.

But she’s 90, will be 91 in a few months. I know she’s not that same spry young woman who helped raise me. And regardless of my age, to her I’m still a child. Not that I’m incapable, but when it comes to some decisions she wants to make them on her own. Thankfully her brother is there to team up with me to make sure she’s making good decisions.

Our newest issue has to do with her moving out of her home. She doesn’t want to. She see no reason for it. And, honestly, I’m no so sure I disagree. Yes, it’s a lot to deal with. Sure, it is not easy making 3 meals a day. Heck I’m half her age and I have troubles making 3 meals a day! She cares for herself, drives to her appointments, visits and shopping.

Who am I to tell her she has to leave her home? I know she needs some help, but she’s not too keen on that. She keeps forgetting that she’s 90! In her mind she’s still very young. When she turned 90 she told me she was starting to feel old. Starting!

I’ve watched as some of my friends have had to find care for their aging parents. I’ve helped them pour over brochures of what look like Disney for the senior set. It’s very different because this is my grandmother, not my mother. For my uncle it’s a challenge as well because it’s his big sister. The dynamic is very different. But our desire for them to be safe is the same.

I knew this time would come. Actually I’ve been listening to people tell me what to do about it since my grandmother had her last cancer surgery nearly 3 years ago. I’ve been ignoring them for a long time. But now they’re getting very loud.

I have always had a great respect for my friends who care for their aging parents. I’ve watched how they gracefully transitioned from child to caregiver. I’ve taken mental notes, bookmarked websites and have read and read and read. And yet, I’m at a loss as to how to do this dance with my grandmother.

Sara

{ 5 comments }

Li May 10, 2011 at 9:15 am

I understand why this is so difficult for you. And although Disney for Elders is an alternative, there can be sadness/guilt/fear associated with sending grandma to a new place to live. The other alternative is taking her home with you – which independant grandmas don’t like at all.

I wish you positive thoughts as you make the decision that will be best for you and grandma (and your great uncle).

xoxo

Best,
Li
@LaLicenciada
@HerDeepThoughts

Nancy May 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Knowing the best way to care for a senior loved one is so hard! I’ve been there, having been the person “responsible” for both of my parents. And honestly, I have come to the conclusion that whatever one chooses to do….there will be a lot of second guessing. My mom did suffer from Alzheimers…for nearly 10 years. There was rarely a time during those years when I felt that I was doing the right thing…and even now that I no longer have her with me, I still second guess. All you can really do is do what seems right for all of you at the time. You are blessed that she is doing so well at 90! Wishing you the best as you determine what is best for her…and the rest of your family.

Sara May 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm

Nancy,

Thank you for visiting and sharing your experience. It means a lot to me to know that I’m not the only one who feels like I’m doing it wrong. I appreciate your support and insight.

Sara

Honey May 11, 2011 at 2:43 am

My mama did this dance with my nana until last fall when she passed away. It really is a dance. You have to let them think they are still in control and comply with whatever wishes are still safe to carry out. It is hard getting old. When my nana was in the nursing home she often talked of going home to her apartment even though she refused to get out of bed for meals and could no longer sit up alone.

It is so nice that your Bubbe is still so healthy and has lived such a full life. May she enjoy many more wonderful years – and you and your daughter with her.

Blessings
Honey

Sara May 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Honey,

Thank you sharing how this impacted your family. I remember your tweets about your nana not being well. I appreciate your kindness and know that you understand what I’m going through.

Sara

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