Category Archives: Assisted Living

That’s My Business…

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That’s My Business…

I recently met with client who used the word “f*ck” as a noun, a verb and an adjective. She switched tenses with the finesse of a linguistic ninja, it was spectacular. The fact that this person is an ordained minister is the icing on the cake. I love my job.

I started a small business in 2014. I fill in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. My usual clients are elderly and they need a little TLC. I check in on them while their adult children work. I share a meal, do some light housekeeping and socialize. I am the eyes and ears for loved ones when they can’t be there.

I’ve visited clients in their own home and at nursing homes. I used to visit a 97 year old man who was in a nursing home. Twice a week I would take him out for lunch at Chick-fil-A and each time he acted like it was the best meal of his life. Every week he would hold up his drink with the wonderment of a young child at Christmas.

“What is this?” Jack would ask

“Sprite” I’d reply

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever had” Jack would say that every week.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be the best part of someone’s day, even if they don’t always remember the details. My lunch date never could get my name straight but he always leapt out of the day room chair when he saw me. He walked across the room with a happy stride and a wide smile planted on his face.

One time around the holidays, I told my nonagenarian (great Scrabble word) friend that he looked festive, things got jumbled a bit. But I liked his version better than mine so we went with that.

“You look festive Jack!” I exclaimed

“Did you say I look sexy?”

“I sure did.”

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen – http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

It isn’t always so fun and carefree. There are often medical concerns lurking in the background, potential embarrassing moments and the sad realization that this friendship likely won’t last that long.

I used to visit Edith, she was 88 and had severe dementia. One day I came in for my usual lunch visit and she wasn’t wearing pants. How do you handle that you ask? I said “Edith, you didn’t tell me it was no pants Monday” and I promptly got her dressed.

I have a client now who has dementia and a feisty sense of humor.  Last week we were walking in the hallway (“airing out” as we call it) when I had a brilliant, awful idea. The residents put a lot of thought into the decor around their front doors. Wreaths, plaques, photos and other seasonal tchotchkes line the narrow shelves that flank the apartment doors. I suggested that we switch a few of the wreaths around and then watch to see what the residents would do. She thought it was the best idea ever. Of course we didn’t do it, we only dream of being that rotten, but it made her laugh.

I always look for ways to add humor and preserve a person’s dignity. If someone doesn’t want to be checked on I’ll tell them I’m there to walk the dog or do laundry, we a find a way to make it work. My goal is to make them feel like a friend is stopping by to visit because inevitably that’s what it feels like.

I meet most of my clients through a friend or family member. My business is based exclusively on referrals. I tend to have one or two clients at a time because I can serve them better that way. The family dynamics vary with each client but they all love their family member and are so grateful to find reliable help. They each hold a special place in my heart and I am honored to be entrusted with their care.

 

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Dementia

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Dementia

Dementia is a beast. I have a client that I visit a couple of times a week, she has moderate dementia. I’ve been visiting her and her husband for almost a year and we’ve gotten very close. She’s a bit feisty and I like to tap into that side of her personality, she seems happy there.

Last week we were walking in the hallway (“airing out” as we call it) when I had a brilliant, awful idea. The residents put a lot of thought into the decor around their front doors. Wreaths, plaques, photos and other seasonal tchotchkes line the narrow shelves that flank the apartment doors. I suggested that we switch a few of the wreaths around and watch to see what the residents would do. She thought it was the best idea ever. Of course we didn’t do it, we only dream of being that rotten, but it made her laugh.

She turned 80 this past weekend. My friend celebrated with her extended family and she sounded happy when I called her. I was surprised she picked up the phone. She is very picky about which calls she takes and I didn’t think she would recognize my name on the Caller ID. I suspect her family urged her to answer.

That’s the awful part about dementia. You forget – people, places, names, events….where the bathroom is, what’s a brush, how to read. My friend still recognizes that my face is a friendly one and she enjoys our time together. She just can’t connect all the dots.

Today she asked me if I liked any boys. I told her I still liked my husband, she chuckled. She asked again a few minutes later and I simply said “not really.” I never press a person with dementia or try to explain complicated situations. I’ll distract them to try to calm them but I avoid correction. Any change gets her antsy. It could be a different pill container or a blue cup instead of a red one, change is hard.

Last week I was straightening up the apartment and I noticed a pat of butter in a dose cup. The kind of cup that cradles the lid of cough medicine. There sitting on the bathroom vanity was a pat of butter in a dose cup. That’s what dementia looks like. You try to make sense of it but it in the end rational thought does not prevail. You just find the logic where you can and hope to ease the stress and anxiety with some laughs along the way.

My friend wrote a note to me on Tuesday. She wrote in on a napkin, her way of making me promise I would be back soon. This is what she wrote:

 

“I will come

on Friday.

Hurry Up or Else!

Keep this.

Love, Helen”

 

 

Red Sweater Likes to Prank

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Red Sweater Likes to Prank

I know we’re all crazy busy with the holidays. A quick, cute story from my day at the office. Bear in mind, my office is an Assisted Living Facility where my job is to bring joy to my clients. I’m a cynic by nature so some days I have to dig deep. Today was easy.

I took Helen to a Christmas Carol sing-along in the activities room. Sometimes it takes a while (a solid hour or more) to get my friend ready. Today she was dressed when I arrived. I think I heard distant trumpets blaring and the sound of angels singing at this good fortune. We were soon on our way downstairs.

We found a spot and got seated. A nice lady was playing the organ and the residents were singing along to carols. We followed along with the program which, thankfully had lyrics printed for all 33 carols. There was a tenor about four seats to my right who had an impressive set of lungs. Across the room someone was dressed as Santa. It was obviously a female Santa based on the boots and the range of her voice. I love it when people go all in to make things special. She was definitely all in.

After the singing there was cake. One thing I really enjoy about seniors is their love of sugar. Any occasion is an excuse for dessert. After cake, Helen and I stood and I hustled to make a clear path for her. A gentleman sitting to our left took a dramatic pause to put his right foot out in Helen’s path in a faux effort to trip her.

Helen gave him some side eye to which he replied “what, I didn’t feel a thing”. Upon closer inspection, I realized our red sweater friend had a prosthetic leg and a good sense of humor.IMG_3373.JPG

My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

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My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

I don’t mean to brag but my job is better than yours. I started a business a few years ago to fill in the gaps for families. I run errands, let the dog out, greet kids at the bus stop, take people to appointments; a variety of services for people that need help. Sometimes it’s a one time deal, other jobs are long term. As the business has grown, it has taken a definite turn toward the more mature client. Most of my steady clients have been in their 80’s and 90’s, their families hire me to check in on them with a social visit.

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I have always been fond of the elderly, even as a child. My cousins would pair off during holiday gatherings and I would visit with Nana and Pop-pop. I loved their stories and their inability to filter themselves. Even as a kid, I found it refreshing to be around people that simply spoke their mind without fear of reprimand. This fondness has followed me my entire life.

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I currently visit a couple twice a week. Ralph and Helen have been married for over 60 years and they still kiss each other goodbye and say “I love you” when one is going out without the other. These are usually outings to a social activity within the assisted living facility where they reside. Ralph is a frequent participant in Wii Bowling and Helen likes to beat me at tabletop shuffleboard.

The featured image for this post is the face of the card that they gave me the other day. Here’s what Helen wrote inside:

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I adore these people.

B-I-N-G-O

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B-I-N-G-O

BINGO is basically Lord of the Flies for octogenarians. I took a client tonight, she lives in an Assisted Living Facility. They had door prizes, gift baskets and a 50/50 raffle. It was a sold out event at $20. a person plus the extra fees – dabbers, raffle tickets and additional boards. Ladies had their hair done, the nice cardigans were worn and I detected a bit of Old Spice in the air. This was a night out, it was festive.

I planned to get there half an hour before it started but afternoon traffic set me 10 minutes behind schedule. My friend was ready to go when I got to her apartment. She uses a walker so it’s never a fast hustle, more like a slow shuffle. We got to the registration table 5 minutes after it opened and we were in the first half of the crowd. It’s really important to get to these events early so my friend can sit within close proximity of her walker. She needs an end seat and 75% of the population at BINGO needed an end seat. I still move quicker than most of them so preferred seating was secured. I may have gotten some side eye from some of the residents, I pretended not to notice.

I got Helen settled and then went to the BINGO buffet to get some snacks. It always surprises me how they offer up all these high fat, sodium and carb filled options to a population which is most likely supposed to be on low-sodium or low fat diets. Whatevs, my blood pressure is fine. I loaded the plate with mini quiches, taco innards, pizza pitas, soft pretzels and mystery juice (it remains undefined with subtle notes of cranberry and institutional seltzer). Helen was happy for the pretzel and juice, I kept the rest (regret is setting in).

Back at the table I noticed the BINGO cards and instructions which included a coupon for a McDonald’s breakfast. This was a score since Helen loves their pancakes and sausage. I typically treat her to it once a week, saved myself $4.02 with that gem. That’s not all though there was also a notepad listing the contact info for the local politician that supplied the freebie. I kept flashing back to BINGO scenes from Better Call Saul.

 

There were 10 games to be played along with an intermission. The event was supposed to run from 4 – 6pm. We weren’t hearing any numbers being called until 4:45, the crowd was getting antsy. I find it interesting that these people that I see slowly, sometimes painfully shuffle through the halls, suddenly develop cat-like reflexes and hawk vision when BINGO starts. In the first 5 games, Edna, a “known gambler”, won twice. People started to talk in hushed whispers that don’t sound hushed when the hushers are hearing impaired. I could hear the chatter on the other side of the room. The host joked that Edna should be careful at intermission. Oddly enough, after intermission, it was announced that Edna donated one of her prizes to be auctioned off as another door prize. True story. I don’t know the full story on Edna and I still can’t figure out how she rigged the game.

Good news is Helen won a round in the second half. Well we both did as I made sure she was staying current. Unfortunately there was another winner for the same game. They resolve that by having each winner pull a card from a deck and the highest card wins. Helen pulled a 5, I knew we were screwed. She got a consolation prize, a certificate to the in-house beauty salon. She won’t go, she’s had the same lady do her hair for at least 30 years. She should trade it for a meal voucher. She just needs to find a neighbor in need of having her hair set and she’ll have some leverage.

The last game was a full card which is like a marathon in the BINGO world. Someone needs to complete an entire card before the game is over. I takes a solid 15 minutes. Doesn’t sound like much, but 15 minutes at the end of BINGO in a retirement home feels a bit like infinity. We powered through with minimal moaning. There was the sound of popping knees, various crackling noises and some whispered curses as people hoisted themselves up when the game ended. Helen and I managed to get a good jump on the elevator traffic and I got her back upstairs to her apartment. I’ll be bringing her some McDonald’s hot cakes and sausage when I visit again on Friday.

 

 

Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

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Middle School (pssst….it NEVER ends)

Today I witnessed something that made me shudder and think….G-damn this middle school mentality never ends. I was visiting an elderly client, she isn’t quite 80 yet, so not that old (the definition keeps getting pushed back…..pretty soon everyone will be young or middle aged until they reach triple digits then and only then will they be considered elderly). I was slightly horrified to realize how much an assisted living facility (ALF – wait, wasn’t that a TV show…) can mirror middle school.

The hallways are filled with seasonal decorations. Each apartment door is decked out for whatever holiday is up next. Some of these people get carried away and I think there must be some kind of secret contest or perhaps it gets discussed at dinner. Dinner is a big deal. The time and table placement of the reservation reflects some kind of ALF hierarchy which I have not yet decoded. My clients aren’t regulars in the dinning room and I think it’s decreasing their stock.

There are popular residents and those that struggle with physical issues and/or social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some of the more outgoing residents deal with physical and social issues, they just soldier through it and show up at dinner and bingo every chance they get. The introverted shy gals like my friend can get lost in the shuffle. Pair a quiet  personality with a touch of dementia and the friend list gets anemic.

As we often do, Helen and I were playing table top shuffleboard in the lobby. We do this about twice and week and we both enjoy it. We were having fun, talking smack to each other and taking turns playing poorly, when a group sat at a nearby table. It started with just two people – Janet and Bob. Janet was talking about a recent hospital stay. She and Bob compared notes on blood thinners and MiraLAX. It was entertaining to listen to and not an uncommon conversation given the demographic.

Soon the two were joined by 3 more and the topic changed to a recent party. One of the ladies just had a blow out celebration for her birthday, a surprise party. Over 50 people attended and it took her more than an hour to read through all of the cards….she mentioned that no less than 3 times. I wanted to shout “we heard you the first two times Marge” but that seemed inappropriate. I could tell my shuffleboard partner was not happy. We played one more round, hearing details about a cake and how good the food was, then we headed upstairs to the apartment she shares with her husband.

As we were slowly shuffling out of there, my friend whispers “have you ever felt out of place?” to me. I knew she was upset about not being invited to the party. I got her upstairs and we talked it out a bit. I handled it the way I would with my kids who are both deep in the throes of middle school. First I validated her feelings. “Yes” I said, “I have felt out of place and it sucks. I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Then I suggested a few things and gave the other people the benefit of the doubt. I said, “I don’t think they were discussing the party to make you feel bad. They were probably just rehashing the experience and not considering how it might make others feel.”

My friend was grateful but was still upset and I wanted to help her beyond this 20 minute conversation, if that is even possible. I suggested the same things I have to my daughter in similar situations. Insert yourself into the activities so you are not overlooked. Make it a point to go out and try new things. Go to dinner, bingo and think about focusing on one or two friends instead of trying to get into a larger social group.

The only thing worse than talking to your kids about the horrors of socializing in middle school….is talking to a nearly 80 year old about the same damn things. It broke me a bit but I kept it together. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I would be back on Friday. Oh and I gave her a big bowl of ice cream because sometimes, ice cream gets you through the tough stuff.