Mom isn't happy at assisted living...

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It is just really hard when your wonderful parent isn't happy.

My Mom moved into a very nice AL facility a month ago. She is just not happy there. I don't know that time will make a difference. She was living with my sister and was unhappy there, and looked forward to getting into her own place. As my brother says, her unhappiness is because her brain and body aren't working right and that is going to be true wherever she is. I don't know that I'm looking for advice so much as to just vent and share my unhappiness that my dear mother (who is very sweet and nice) is unhappy and likely to remain so.

For years Mom lived in a MIL apartment by me, and then more recently spent a couple months with my brother and then my sister. The reason for the move out of the MIL apartment was that she developed dementia rather quickly over a few months, and I wasn't able to deal with her increased needs. We are still working through the diagnostics for her (with a top notch Memory and Brain Wellness center at our University), but the preliminary thoughts are that it is vascular dementia. She forgets a lot, and has real trouble planning. But she still is able to understand complex information and discussions. Her dementia has been pretty stable over the last few months (which would match the vascular dementia diagnosis), although she has gotten much more wobbly.

Mom is very private, and it bugs her having people come into her apartment to give her meds, etc. She is also not leaving her apartment to participate in any activities. One downside at this AL is that there are many people who are less "with it" than Mom, so that bothers her. Her thyroid is also low and that could be impacting her mood, cognitive ability and willingness to do things. We are also going to ask her doctor about anti-depressants.

We realize things MIGHT get better with more time. And before considering any changes we need to complete the whole diagnostic part so we have as much information as to diagnosis, prognosis, etc.

She would like to move back in with my sister, in which case we would have to hire full time caretakers while my sister is at work. Mom can mostly be okay by herself, she hasn't shown any tendency to wander. But she does get confused and worried when she is by herself, which seems to increase her dementia, so it is best that somebody be with her most of the time. My sister and husband might consider it, but they haven't discussed it thoroughly. My mom really isn't demanding. But she still might not be happy.

I know from reading this forum a lot, that moving back in with my sister might be a very bad idea. I really want to protect my sister and make sure that if that is an option that is being considered that she have lots of support and help. If it were up to me I would probably say that Mom should stay in AL, and if not this one, then maybe another one.

But mainly I am needing to learn how to live with my mother being unhappy. I like to solve problems, and I think this may be a problem that may not be solvable. She wants life like it was 5 years ago. Even 2 years ago. And that isn't going to happen.


Get your mom seen by a geriatric psychiatrist. The changes in the brain that accompany dementia predispose folks to depression and anxiety. A skilled psychiatrist can trial meds that may allow mom more contentment.

Empathizing, but getting out of "I need to fix this" mode is important for you and your sister. "I'm sorry you're unhappy mom. The docs say you need to be here to get stronger". My own mom always needed to be "at the top of the class".

Make sure that she really needs SO and not simply an Independent Living facility.

My mom did fine with just three meals a day, folks who were more with it and me refilling her med containers once a week.

If you mom can self administer her meds accurately, she might not need AL.
Thanks for your feedback. Yes, I am working on the "I need to fix this" mode, which a major mode for ME to be in. My sister's major mode is "I want everyone to be happy" mode (even at her own expense). We both need to work on our modes!!

The Brain/Memory center she is going to has psychiatrists and neurologists. Her PCP also specializes in geriatrics, so I think we have all the players on board. But there is still more cognitive testing, etc. to do (there have been waiting lists) . We are hoping that the thyroid will help things, but will also be talking to them about anti-depressants. They are reluctant to start new meds until we have completed the testing, so they know more about what they are working with.

Mom definitely needs help with daily meds. She either forgets to take them, or will take them multiple times. When she lived with us kids we would set out the meds for her and then could verify she took them. With AL they need to SEE her take the meds - which I understand because they are medical professionals and responsible to make sure they are taken. But she hates that sort of hand holding. We have considered one of those automated dispenser units, but I think that might be more than she could deal with now.

But maybe we can find someplace that has people who are more with it, or more options for meds. We will keep considering alternatives, but also work at finding peace with Mom not being content. Darn it, she is a wonderful Mom and person and deserves happiness.

I just spoke to her about a follow up appointment I just made to discuss the results of all the testing, etc (which won't happen until March). and said we will find out more about a diagnosis, etc. She said, "Well, I'm just wearing out". She probably has an accurate a diagnosis as any they will give us :)

chdottir, your Mom might be "with it" at the moment but that could change with a few months. It is better that she learns her way around the facility now, learn the Staff, and try to make new friends. Don't try to relocate her, that would just accelerate her dementia.

Your Mom isn't happy because she can no longer hop in the car and drive to the mall to have lunch with friends.... most of her friends probably have moved or had passed away.... and the love of her life is gone... bet her hearing isn't as good, neither is her eyesight... and at her age probably food doesn't taste as good, either. Life has become so different, and at her age finding a "new normal" isn't easy.
FF is right......Relocating her won’t fix anything. It’s tough watching our folks age and be unhappy. But think of all the poor elders who aren’t cared for like your mom, and mine for that matter. Our moms are lucky in many ways. We can’t fix old age but we can make it caring and humane.
If your mom is "very private," that probably goes a long way to explaining why she isn't happy in AL. And why she wasn't happy living with sister either. But in light of her privacy needs, she has probably decided sister is preferable to AL.

I say this as an introvert myself: too many people around me drains my energy and makes me feel almost like a feral cat.  I'm only 49 and I already know I'd be miserable as all hell living in a group facility.  I need space, privacy, quiet, and solitude.  I absolutely HATE anyone coming into my personal space without at least the symbolism of knocking or asking first. 

Maybe she just needs a more private room/suite.  Alternatively, she would probably be fairly accepting of a home caregiver at sister's, if it was put to her in terms of a choice between that and AL. 
Well, Mom has a 1 bedroom apartment at least so she is by herself most of the time. But she needs people to help her (meds mostly at this point), which is an intrusion twice a day. Then there are miscellaneous things that happen (cleaners/laundry, physical therapy, occupational therapy) that all intrude on her space.

I get it completely. I am an introvert also, and would dislike it. A small part of the reason I couldn't have her living in the MIL apartment by me anymore is that SHE would keep intruding on ME multiple times a day, despite me telling her I needed time to myself. I was already checking in with her regularly to give her her meds, making sure she had food to eat and remind her it was there, visit with her, etc. But she would forget, or have a problem (small to large), or just be lonely so in she would come. I was dealing with my own health problems, and personal problems at the time, and that fact that I couldn't rely on having even an hour to myself really got to me.

That wasn't the only reason for the move, but it was part of it. So I understand her dislike of the intrusions!!

Frankly, I think it would be a mistake for her to move in with my sister. Although we don't have a diagnosis yet it seems very unlikely she will be getting better, and likely will be getting worse. Both mentally and physically. I worry about my sister, who sacrifices herself rather than deal with other people being upset or unhappy. If Mom were to move in with my sister, she would definitely be hiring outside help. But that brings about its own problems, including lack of privacy for my sister. And what happens if Mom starts having problems at night?? And on and on.

I am one of six kids, and so far we have been on the same page. Everyone was completely supportive when I said I needed to not be caretaker for Mom any more. We agreed on the AL, etc.

I think I will step back for a lot of the conversation around any decisions about whether Mom will stay in AL or not. I tend to be a decision maker, and organizer, etc. And I really did lead the charge on finding an AL place, although everybody else was in agreement. So at this point as the siblings discuss options I will participate when asked, but I am going to try to take a back seat. I think it is time for me to do that. My other siblings worry about my sister also, so it isn't like anybody is pressuring her to take Mom, and many of us have discouraged her.

At this point I think we are all on board with waiting until diagnosis, etc before making any decisions. This would be in mid-March, by which time things could have changed in a way that makes the decision obvious. Maybe Mom will have settled in better and made some friends. Maybe there will be a health crisis where she has to have more care. Maybe the increase in thyroid will make a huge difference for the better.

I'll just have to wait and see and try not to fuss about it too much. In the meantime I hate that Mom is unhappy and really hope things change for the better for her.

I appreciate everyone's thoughts and input. It helps to have a place to vent. I think my siblings are tired of hearing my opinions on the matter :)

Does the staff not knock before they enter? I'd get mom a nice " Please Knock" sign for her door.

Sometimes you can reframe an experience for someone. " Mom, you have staff", we'd tell my mother. Staff to clean, to deliver laundry, to fix things.

At the AL my mom was briefly in, the clients went to a central medication station for their meds. Can that be arranged?

If mom does want to interact with others, can she carry a book or magazine to read? That always did the trick for us.
BarbBrooklyn, Those are some excellent suggestions. I will talk to her about the medication station - that might be an option and I think she would like it better. And carrying the book or magazine, very practical and given that she loves to read would indicate her abilities to others. Although I don't think she really reads books much these days, mostly magazines.
“I like to solve problems, and I think this may be a problem that may not be solvable.” Many of us can relate!

And many of us were assigned that role very early in life. By dear old mom and dad.

To make matters worse (?!) for me, troubleshooting and problem-solving is the core of my paid job. I frequently forget to “shut that off” on evenings and weekends.

Let’s cut to the chase: Safe trumps happy. Trained professionals trump frazzled adult children.

There’s SO much emotion injected into all this. And sure, our parents aren’t robots. Every elder has his or her unique personality and life-long preferences. And they HATE the loss of control.

Listen to the good folks who chimed in before me. You have the right idea for mom. She needs AL or memory care.

You need to be the primary info-gatherer for mom’s facility care. Stay on top of all the details and communication. Keep your eye on where mom can go next if her needs “outgrow” her current set-up.

Finances can change over time, too. Keep tabs on who accepts Medicaid and who doesn’t; which care situations are “flat rate” vs nickel-and-dime for every bath aide, bedding change, medication assistance, etc etc. 

This will serve two purposes:
1.) It will scratch your “problem-solver” itch.
2.) You will be equipped to redirect the sibs who turn all “awwww, Mom needs to be with one of us.” (It’s starting already.)

Good intentions + in-home caregiving has “done in” countless adult children. They end up mentally and physically broken. 

At the same time, Mom/Dad’s path EXACTLY is the same — whether they drag their adult child down the chute with them OR whether their medical/assistive needs are addressed by elder-care professionals.

It’s OK to “just” be a daughter. In fact, it’s preferable. Keep that in mind as you game-plan this difficult, heart-wrenching journey.

Big hugs and good luck. Keep coming back here for support.
Your mom sounds a lot like mine. It took her several weeks to adjust. She is with my dad and they tend to be insular so she doesn’t do activities or much socializing. She’s gotten more or less used to the people coming in to intrude on her privacy, partly because the caregiving is very good and partly because she really does need help with her activities of daily living a lot of the time.

Here is what I want to tell you, I guess: try not to worry about how happy or unhappy she is, because it may or may not get better, but she is safe and that’s what matters. Do things with her that make her feel good: take her out to brunch or coffee, or shopping, or the salon to get her hair & nails done. My mom used to love to go to bookstores and the library so I’d take her there once a week so she could pick out books. Now her eyes don’t let her do much reading, and she gets nervous when she’s away from my dad too long, so instead of taking her out to a salon I go over and paint her nails for her every week. It gives us some time together and it lifts her spirits. Those little things really count.

Mostly, give yourself some credit for taking care of her for as long as you could, seeing the situation clearly, and getting her into a good place. Give her some time to get used to things while you continue with testing and trying meds. Good luck. God bless you and your mom.

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