Geriatric Care - Caring for a Loved One in another City

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Sally Smith:  Welcome to Age to Age.  I’m Sally Smith.  Let’s talk.  Today, we have with us Mary Peters who is very knowledgeable in the field of taking care of the elderly, from every different angle, and Care for Life founder.


Mary, we’ve been talking, today, about the different dynamic with families living far apart.  We’re talking about the different dynamic that we all face, in our society, as this tidal wave of care for the elderly comes crashing down on us, and we’re really not all that prepared for it.  You’ve discussed your grandmother and great grandmother living in the home with you all and, certainly, mine did too.  That is also true for most of the people we’ve talked to.  And all of that has changed as people have become much more mobile, living far apart, no longer living on the old family home place taking care of their own.  How big of an issue is this for families who live far apart from a failing elderly loved one who doesn’t want to move away from their home town? 


Mary Peters:  This is a really terrible problem, and many people do bring their elderly mother or father to live with them, or to live in an apartment nearby.  This is terrible for the older person because they don’t have their church friends anymore.  Maybe they still drive, but they can’t get around; they don’t know where to go, and they’re basically, kind of, alone.  They’re dependent on their adult child.  We have a lot of people call us and say, you know, I’ve been talking with Mom and she says she’s fine, would you mind going out to the house and seeing how she is.  We’ll go out there, and this lady will not be able to get out of bed.  She doesn’t want to worry the daughter, doesn’t want to worry the family.  We see a lot of that.


Sally Smith:  I’ve also come into contact with families where the mother will not call.  She’ll even have a fall and not call for any help because she doesn’t want to go to the hospital.  As a conscious act, she will avoid any kind of care that could possibly open the door to being institutionalized in any way.  What happens when you go to the house and the lady doesn’t want to let you in?  Do you just call the daughter and say, she won’t let me in, she doesn’t want to be assessed, she doesn’t want to talk to me?


Mary Peters:  Well, we try to assess, really, what is going on.  We have had situations where a lady came to the door, in her nightgown, with a loaded gun.  This was because she thought there were people in her attic that had followed her home from the grocery store.


Sally Smith:  Oh gosh.


Mary Peters:  And so, a lot of times, our friend, Elizabeth Spencer, who is the director of Elder Support Line at the police department, we will call her and she will bring an office over and we’ll be able to talk to the elderly person to let us in.  Sometimes they’re fine.  They just need an assessment.  They need some care.  They need a caregiver.  We immediately get the family on the line.  Maybe they come to the city to make sure they’re okay.  But we use that a lot, and we do get in.  We cannot walk away.


Sally Smith:  Is the usual scenario that you would get a call from someone, that’s learned about your group, and says that her mother wants to stay and she’s going to need some level of care?  Then, is there a family meeting, do you ask if all the siblings are on board?  Do they all get together and decide where they want this thing to go and what the general direction will be, and then you kind of take over, and they all get on a plane and fly home, and you just keep them posted?  Is that sort of the way it plays out?


Mary Peters:  They will let us know.  They will tell us, you know, Sally thinks Mother should stay at home; Becky says, I want Mother to come home with me; Edward says, I think we ought to put her in a facility.  So, again, as we were talking, they need to work it out among themselves, with our help, based on our expertise and assessment, as to what to do with their elderly mother.  Sometimes they do go home, then come back and, maybe, decide, on the phone, with each other.  Eventually they work it out. 


Sally Smith:  Well, it’s sort of new terrain, and so unusual to think of your mother going into old age in a city where no sibling is right there.  At least in my situation, with my mother, who has complete dementia, hasn’t known me for years, or anyone else, we’ve got family, right there, going to see her, whether she knows it or not.  You know, we’re involved, and that’s a different peace of mind.


Mary Peters:  That’s a wonderful thing.


Sally Smith:  As difficult as it is to see her like that, I think it would be much harder to know that was all happening 500 miles away and nobody is there.


Mary Peters:  Yeah.  Well, this is a family town.  Charleston is a family town.  Everybody goes to the churches.  Everybody knows each other.  So there’s a lot more of people getting along.  People living here say, if I have a problem with my mother, my brother lives in California, he comes here for one weekend and wants to do such-and-such; he and I have to work it out over 3,000 miles.  Sometimes that does happen.  


Sally Smith:  It’s not so much about where they are, it’s about if you find a place where there is a connection, a comfort level with speaking to people, and all those little things, which seem strange and meaningless, in a way.  This sense of connecting and belonging, especially something like the church, and the neighborhoods, I’d think that would prop people up a lot longer where there’s this sense of aloneness.  Do you find that to be true?


Mary Peters:  Yeah.  We see a lot of families here taking care of their older parents.


Sally Smith:  And they have a support system.  That’s the difference.


Mary Peters:  Yeah.


Sally Smith:  They have the church.  They have the neighborhood.  They have the sewing group.  They have whatever the things are that connect them to other people.

Mary Peters:  I had an aunt and uncle in Atlanta that I was very close to, Patty and Bubba.  Uncle Bubba died.  We didn’t know it, but they were hiding it.  Patty had dementia.  She called me one night and told me that my uncle had been in the hospital for five days.  So I called the doctor, and talked with the doctor.  We knew he had lung cancer.  And he died.  So, Patty was there on her own, driving her Cadillac to the Kroger.  Her license had expired.  But, what I was going to say is that she loved scotch.  Every night, she would pour herself a big scotch.  She would sit down with her address book and start calling people; she was a talker. 


We knew all this was going on, my cousin and I had visited and all.  But a woman that I didn’t know, had never met any of her friends, asked, is this Mary Peters?  I said, yes.  And she said, well, this is so-and-so.  Your Aunt Patty called me last night and kept me on the phone for three hours.  We only met her and her husband at a Christmas party five years ago.  We were taking care of Aunt Patty.  My cousin would fly from California.  She’s a geriatric care manager also.  We would get there, and she would be doing well.  We would say to ourselves, well, we’re going have to wait for a crisis.  And we sat down with her and got the healthcare powers of attorney before she really became demented. 


In this one situation, we got the healthcare power of attorney, the power of finance.  We got everything, explained it to her.  She understood.  She wanted us to do it, so we went to the bank to get it all notarized.  We’re sitting there with these people and she says, they’re trying to take advantage of me.  The bank people realized the situation.  You have all kinds of situations in which that can be humorous in a time where it is sad.   


Sally Smith:  Yes, and long distance, as you say.  And here, too, I mean, what could be better, your two nieces are geriatric care managers, and there are still problems.


Mary Peters:  Yeah.


Sally Smith:  Mary, thank you so much for talking with us about these things.


Mary Peters:  Thank you, Sally.


Sally Smith:  And thanks to all our listeners for joining us today.  We always welcome your suggestions and comments on our website.  This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying good-bye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey.  We are all connected. 


If you have any questions about the services or programs offered at the Medical University of South Carolina, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, please call MUSC Health Connection at (843) 792-1414. 

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