Bob’s Place: A Personal Story of Finding a Home for Dad

Bob’s front door at Emeritus at Oakbridge in Lakeland, FL is welcoming and personalized.

Alzheimer’s disease has progressed slowly since Bob was diagnosed three years ago. After numerous troubling incidents with memory, erratic driving and a bout of pneumonia that landed him in the hospital, it became clear that Bob could no longer return to his home and live safely on his own.

Bob’s family was left to ponder the dilemma so many caregivers face: “Dad needs a safe place to live. What are we going to do?”

Of his four children, his daughter Pam is the only one who lives near him in Florida. The others live thousands of miles away in Michigan. By default, Pam became the primary caregiver.

Moving Dad In

When he was discharged from the VA hospital, Bob returned home, but continued to decline. Once it was clear that he was no longer safe living independently, he moved in with Pam.

From that moment, Pam fully understood that caregiver guilt has many facets. Maybe she should have noticed something was wrong sooner. Pam wanted to do the right thing, but admits she was afraid to move him in with her. Would she know how to care for him? What if something happened to him? When he did move in, she wondered if she was doing enough. She did all she could, but still had to work; the mortgage wouldn't pay itself. Sometimes the thought crossed her mind that maybe he should go to an assisted living facility. This thought was always accompanied by new wave of guilt.

Then Pam and her sister, Elizabeth, had a heart-to-heart talk. Elizabeth had previously worked in a nursing home and helped Pam to see the situation in a different light. Her opinion was based more on rational, first-hand knowledge and less on emotions. It was obvious that Bob needed to live in a place where he would be cared for by professionals around the clock. It would be easier on him if he moved now, while he was in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s rather than the more sever later stages, she reasoned. The other siblings, Carole and Mark, all supported Pam in this decision. They all agreed: Dad would be able to adapt more quickly to a new environment now, and it would be less stressful for him. He would establish a routine that makes him feel safe and comfortable. It was time.

However, guilt reared its ugly head yet again, this time because Pam still yearned to keep her father at home as long as possible. Deep down, though, she knew her siblings were right.

Finding a Home for Dad

The family finally made the decision that Bob would move to a Senior Community (Bob agreed, knowing that his daughter needed to return to work.) The search to find an assisted living facility near Pam began. She turned to for assistance in finding the right home for her father. Her search turned up a list of assisted living communities in her area and they began their selection process.

Bob and his daughter Pam.

She and Bob checked them out, one by one. They didn’t just take a quick tour, though. They stayed and observed the residents and general atmosphere at each one. Then, they found one that Bob particularly liked: Emeritus at Oakbridge in Lakeland, Florida. Bob especially liked the apartment-style living at Emeritus at Oakbridge, and the fact that large windows provided wonderful views of nature. He woyld be able to look out and see trees, squirrels, songbirds and ducks every day.

The pair spent lots of time there. They returned many times, at different times of the day, scoping out daily life, the staff, accommodations, activities and food.

In the end, it was Bob who decided on Oakbridge, which Pam says made the transition easier because he had the final say in the decision. They had spent so much time there before the move that Bob was already familiar with the setting and felt comfortable rather quickly.

Settling Into a New Home

Now, months later, Bob has settled in. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, a daily routine has a calming effect and provides feelings of safety and familiarity. Each evening at dinner, he sits at his usual table, in the same seat with three other dining buddies. His routine is reassuring; there are no new faces or unfamiliar voices to disrupt his meal.

Bob proudly displays a photo of himself at age 20, in his army uniform during his service in Japan.

His apartment is filled with mementos of his life, and though Alzheimer’s has begun to rob Bob of his short-term memory, he proudly shows visitors pictures of his younger self in an Army uniform. “This one was taken in Japan. I served from 1954 to 1968,” he says. “There’s one of my mom, and that’s my dad. This one is of my four children.” A twinkle appears in Bob’s blue eyes as he speaks about his history, his family. These moments of recognition and memories are treasured now more than ever.

A Rich, Full Life

A quiet man by nature, Bob enjoys relaxing in his apartment. But he does venture out to visit with neighbors and partake in some of Oakbridge’s many social activities. Bob goes to happy hour many nights. Although he never drinks, he enjoys listening to the music. Activities Director Sonya Gonzales is determined to get Bob to dance with her one of these days, but it hasn’t happened yet. She’ll keep trying. Making sure the residents have an enriching social life is her mission, and she loves every minute of it. “I have the best job. I get to make people laugh and have fun all day.”

Bob also enjoys Westerns and joins the group to watch Bonanza. Some days, he participates in other activities like popcorn movie nights, indoor golf tournaments, card games, bowling and dominoes.

Today’s activity is bean-bag toss (an adaptation of the popular game “corn-hole”). While eaiting for their turn, some in the group tap their toes to the beat of the old-time country music: Hank Williams Jr. and the Oakridge Boys. Bob doesn’t join in today. One of his buddies coaxes Bob to “come on over.” He smiles, wags his head and walks on by. He’s got more important business to attend to today.

Family Time

Bob with Jaydon, his 3 year-old great-grandson.

Bob’s got visitors. Pam has brought Bob’s great-grandson, Jaydon, for a visit. At age 3, Jaydon’s favorite game to play with his great-grandpa is ball. Tossing a foam football, bouncing plastic balls – it doesn’t matter. As long as there is a ball involved, he’s content. Bob is happy to comply, a slight smile crossing his face as the wide-eyed boy squeaks, “Get ready to catch it!”

Afterwards the three will head to the restaurant for lunch. Jaydon isn’t picky – his single focus right now is “I want juice please.” But the menu for grown-ups varies every day. Today, there’s a choice of Barbecue Chicken or Seafood Casserole with rice, roasted asparagus, a roll and frozen raspberry ice cream pie for dessert. These restaurant-quality selections are created by chefs and nutritionists.

A nature path outside Emeritus at Oakbridge gives Pam and dad Bob space to take a stroll.

After lunch, Pam takes her dad by the hand, with Jaydon in tow, and they walk back to Bob’s apartment, where they’ll spend some family time. When Bob moved in, they brought his favorite things from home: his parent’s antique wall clock that chimes every hour, his favorite slippers and hats, and his many family photos. Even though residents can bring furniture from home, Pam and Bob decided to buy new furnishings to provide a fresh start for his new home. A comfy couch and leather recliner in the living room face Bob’s TV and a picture window view of the nature area beyond. His new bedroom is complete with a pillow-top queen size bed. A refrigerator and microwave make for easy snacks anytime.

Losing the Guilt?

Now that Bob has settled in, has Pam been able to shed the caregiver guilt that she’s carried for so long? Not completely. The feeling still creeps in. She worries if her dad is happy and wonders if she visits enough. She drives by Oakbridge on her way to work every day, and feels guilty when she doesn’t have time to stop in. But she visits often – several times a week – and she makes those visits count. In the end, the remorse might never completely subside.

In the meantime, she’s found peace in knowing her father is content, safe and well-cared for. For this caregiver, she can’t ask for more than that. Assisted Living turned out to be the very best option for everyone involved. Especially Bob.

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