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

16 Comments

Bob’s front door at Brookdale Oakbridge is welcoming and personalized.

Alzheimer’s disease has progressed slowly since Bob was diagnosed in 2009. 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 her father’s 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 caregiving involves a mix of emotions. Maybe she should have noticed something was wrong with her father 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? When he did move in, Pam wondered if she was doing enough. She still had to work. Sometimes the thought of an assisted living facility crossed her mind, but this thought was always accompanied by new waves of guilt.

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 experience, and less on emotions. It was obvious that their father needed to live in a place where he would be cared for by professionals around the clock. It would also be easier on him if he moved while he was in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, rather than the more severe later stages. The other siblings, Carole and Mark, supported Pam in this decision. They all agreed: Dad would experience less stress and be able to adapt more quickly to a new environment now. He would establish a routine that would make him feel safe and comfortable. Deep down, Pam knew her siblings were right. It was time.

Finding a Home for Dad

The entire family decided that Bob would move to a senior living community. Bob agreed, knowing that his daughter needed to return to work. The search to find an assisted living facility near Pam began, and she turned to AgingCare.com for assistance in finding the right home for her father. Her search resulted in a list of assisted living communities in her area, and they began the selection process.

Bob and his daughter Pam.

Pam and her father checked them out one by one, but they didn’t just take quick tours. They stayed for a while to observe the residents and get a feel for the general atmosphere at each community. Then they found one that Bob particularly liked: Brookdale Oakbridge in Lakeland, Florida. Bob was especially fond of the apartment-style living and the fact that large windows provided wonderful views of nature. He would be able to look out his apartment windows and see trees, squirrels, songbirds and ducks every day.

Bob and Pam spent lots of time there and made return visits at different times of day to scope out daily life, the staff, accommodations, activities, and dining options.

They spent so much time at the community that Bob quickly became comfortable with the setting. In the end, the transition was easier because it was Bob who made the final decision on Oakbridge.

Settling Into a New Home

Now, months later, Bob has settled in exceptionally well. For people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, a daily routine can have a calming effect and provide a sense of of safety and familiarity. Each evening at dinner, Bob sits at his usual table, in the same seat with three other dining buddies. His routine is reassuring.

Bob proudly displays a photo of himself in his army uniform.

Bob’s apartment is filled with mementos of his life, and though Alzheimer’s has begun to rob him 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 with pride. “Here’s one of my mom, and that’s my dad. This photo 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. Making sure the residents have an enriching social life is her mission, and she loves every minute of it. “I have the best job,” Sonya chuckles. “I get to make people laugh and have fun all day.”

Bob also enjoys Westerns and regularly joins a group of residents 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 waiting for their turns, some in the group tap their toes to the beat of old-time country music: Hank Williams Jr. and the Oakridge Boys. One of Bob’s buddies coaxes him to “come on over,” but Bob doesn’t join in today. Instead, he smiles, wags his head and walks on by. He’s got more important business to attend to.

Family Time

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

Today Bob has some special guests. 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. Bob is happy to participate, a slight smile crossing his face as the wide-eyed boy squeaks, “Get ready to catch it!” Afterward, the three head to the on-site restaurant for a family lunch together.

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

Letting Go of the Guilt

A nature path outside Brookdale Oakbridge gives Pam and her father space to take a stroll.

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 wonders if her dad is happy and worries that she doesn’t visit enough. Pam 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 several times a week and makes those visits count as best she can.

In the meantime, Pam has found peace in knowing her father is content, safe and well cared for. Assisted living turned out to be the very best option for everyone involved, especially Bob.

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16 Comments

It is amazing that this article was sent today as I am meeting with the admissions counselor from Emeritus Oak Lawn this evening. I am filled with Caregiver guilt at this very moment and I can relate to everything that Pam is feeling. This article has eased my mind some and I do know deep down that moving mom to Emeritus is the right thing to do. Thank you!
The article says that Pam visits "several times" a week.....that may be too much and could wear her out after a time....Caregivers, we need to take care of ourselves too....that way, we'll be healthy enough to care lovingly and adequately for our elders.
Dear 2 much - I am learning as I go along, but from what I've found out is that cost varies widely depending on the facility. We have got prices anywhere from 3000 per month to nearly 8000. Emeritus was very reasonable (3500 per month for a shared room plus an initial 2700 one time move in fee). Each facility has financial services available to explain the different options for funding this type of care. Check the websites or call them to get in touch with a financial counselor. There are quite a few options, but it is best to speak directly to someone who can best direct you based on your personal situation.