About a year and a half ago, Lynn received a call from someone at the school where her mother, Janet, worked. They were concerned about some memory issues they had been noticing and thought Lynn should know.
“I went into action,” Lynn says. “I’m an only child, so I’m the only one responsible for my mother’s care.”
She looked into home health care and assisted living, but Janet refused all help at the time. Lynn started making the hour-and-a-half drive from her home in West Springfield to her mother’s home in Athol, Massachusetts, once a week.
Then Janet stopped playing the organ at church, something she’d done for more than 30 years, and Lynn noticed her mom was starting to have difficulty managing her finances and paying her bills. She worried that, in between her weekly visits, her mom wasn’t eating well, if at all.
From One Full-time Job to Two
For a majority of Lynn’s career, she was an accountant. But when she took on the role of caregiver for her mom, she suddenly felt like she had two full-time jobs.
“My stress level was through the roof,” she says.
It wasn’t long before the stress became too much, and Lynn decided to quit her full-time job to become a part-time assistant tax collector. Lynn is not alone: 39 percent of family caregivers leave their jobs to have more time for their loved ones, according to statistics compiled by the National Caregiving Alliance.
Something Has to Change
At the beginning of the summer, Lynn and her husband went on vacation. “I dropped off food for her before we left,” she says. “On the way home, we stopped by her house, and all the food I had left was rotting in her fridge.”
Then in July, Janet was rushed to the ER, where she was treated for dehydration and an untreated urinary tract infection. She went from the hospital to a nursing home for rehab, where the staff told Lynn that, besides dementia, there was nothing wrong with Janet and she could go home.
“But when I went to pick her up, she could barely walk,” Lynn recalls. “Instead of sending her home, I wanted her in assisted living.”
Respite Care to the Rescue
Fortunately, Lynn had started the search for the right assisted living community for her mom a year and a half earlier. Although Janet wasn’t ready to move to assisted living at the time, the mother and daughter wanted to find the right community so when the time eventually came, they’d be ready.
“We looked at a couple assisted living places in West Springfield, but when we went to The Arbors, I knew it was the right fit,” Lynn says. “It's a nice, bright, cheery environment, and the staff and the residents seemed happy.”
When Janet was discharged from rehab, she went to The Arbors at Westfield, where she stayed in a short-term respite stay apartment while Lynn made arrangements for her to move into the assisted living community long term.
Respite care provides caregivers a temporary rest from caregiving while their loved one gets to test the waters of assisted living. Also known as short-term stays, respite care visitors receive the same comforts and amenities as assisted living residents, and it provides them with the chance to interact with others having similar experiences, spend time in a safe and supportive environment, and participate in social activities.
“The respite stay was great because I didn't have to worry about moving her furniture or setting up her phone, or getting her mail transferred right away,” Lynn says. “The room was furnished, and she was in a place where she was getting taken care of while I was doing all the behind-the-scenes work: I moved all her health care providers from Athol to Westfield. I got her mail forwarded. I had the Athol newspaper forwarded to her so she still has a connection to home. Respite care really eased the transition.”
A New Home
Janet moved into her assisted living apartment in mid-August.
“Janet very hesitant about assisted living,” says Alicia Dessereau, marketing director at The Arbors at Westfield. “Her daughter, Lynn, was also very hesitant. But within minutes of her daughter leaving, Janet was downstairs playing the piano and having a great time. It was one of those ‘Wow, I really like my job’ moments.”
Lynn stopped by later that week to enjoy a meal in the dining room with her mom. As the mother and daughter were leaving the dining room, one of the cooks said, “Good evening, Mrs. Janet!” Lynn responded with surprise, “You know my mother’s name?” To which the cook responded, “Of course, I know her name!”
“Now my mom says: ‘Why would I want to go home? There are people here I can play cards with. They cook my meals for me.’ She enjoys it,” Lynn says.
Lynn enjoys it, too. Now instead of driving an hour and a half to make sure her mom has eaten, she drives 10 minutes and they play cribbage or go out to lunch. No longer her mom’s caregiver, Lynn has become Janet’s daughter again.
“We have more quality time together,” she says. “We go to the movies. I take her to plays. It’s wonderful.”
Lynn isn’t the only caregiver to take on the emotionally, physically, and financially demanding job and realize she needs help. If you’re looking for ways to lighten your load, download our eBook How Moving My Loved One to The Arbors Eliminated My Caregiving Challenges to read more stories from families who experienced caregiving challenges that were then eliminated by moving their loved one to assisted living at The Arbors.