A cool helicopter, fast cars, tons of action–I loved Magnum PI as a kid. It was one Dad’s favorites, and before long, I couldn’t get enough either. I loved how Thomas always found a way to get the bad guys, how his mustache looked just like dad’s, and did I mention the helicopter, fast cars and tons of action? I was hooked, and like every kid, I had a little fantasy about getting to be Magnum. Who knew a search for assisted living would someday let me play it out?
Even today, if I find a rerun, I watch it. I’ll admit I’m just as entertained by it now as I was with Dad way back when. And in some ways, my search for the right assisted living facility for Mom allowed me to live out my childhood fantasy of being Magnum (minus the Ferrari, helicopters, and bad guys).
When my caregiver status became official, I knew nothing about assisted living or memory care. And given the circumstances, I needed to get up to speed quickly. I felt like I was trapped in that horrible back-to school-dream: completely unprepared and walking into the biggest test of my life. I needed to solve the case and solve it fast.
The scramble to investigate began. My first orders of business were:
- Educate myself! Assisted Living. Memory Care. What is aging in place? I had to start with the basics before I could get to the more complex (and unpleasant) logistical topics.
- Reconcile what I learned with what Mom’s needs were at the time, and what they would be in the future.
- Determine what option was best and then figure out how we could afford it.
Once I went through that crash course, I had an idea of the care she would need, a rough sketch of what it would cost, and a rougher sketch of how we might pay for it. I figured I was good to go and set out to find the right place for Mom. But I quickly became frustrated.
I didn’t view these places as assisted living facilities; but rather as my mother’s future home. I wanted to hear what the residents of each assisted living community thought. And what their families thought. If they felt happy, cared for, safe, everything I wanted Mom to be. But internet searches kept leading me to (lots of) phone calls from ‘care advisors’ and community tours felt staged a lot of the time. I wasn’t finding what I was searching for.
At the time, I was becoming familiar with a new emotion. Actually more instinct than emotion. It was akin to the inherent paternal instinct I feel in relation to my children–but sharper and more acute. I was making a decision that would directly impact Mom’s quality of life for the foreseeable future (possibly the rest of her life). And I felt the weight of that decision. I knew what I needed to learn but struggled to find a good way to learn it.
Then I got a seemingly small, but incredibly helpful, piece of advice from relative stranger I’d met along the way. We’ll call him Rick (my fellow Magnum followers know why). He was at least a decade older than me and I’d met him at a support group. This incredibly kind guy had been through the process I was wading through, and was still primary caregiver to his mother. As I described my frustration, he looked at me and said, “Be a detective.”
“Be a detective?”
I didn’t understand at first. “How will that help me?” Then he explained, “Visit the assisted living facilities, but not for tours. Yes, you’ll need to go on the tour and you’ll need to talk with the community representatives about your situation etc. But while you’re there, really observe. At the end of the tour, ask them if it’s ok if you just hang out for a bit. And while you’re doing that, strike up a conversation with whoever you can. Be a detective.”
It sounded logical enough to me, so that’s what I did. And it helped. I wouldn’t stay long after each visit, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes thirty. But it was long enough and it definitely helped.
What Would Magnum Do?
I had many, many conversations. Sometimes I let on that I was looking at the place for Mom, sometimes I didn’t. I spoke with residents, visiting friends, visiting family (jackpot), staff (non sales), and in some cases even vendors. All were informative and most were enjoyable.
Most assisted living communities looked good “on paper”–lots of stars on their rating, glowing testimonials, nice pictures and the like. But what I learned from these detective missions either supported–or not–what I was seeing on paper. They gave me an important, and not staged, glimpse of the human side of the communities. This is what I was looking for.
I was so thankful for the pro-tip Rick shared. It helped me discover the type of information I needed to inform my thoughts and decision making process.
And it made me feel a little like Magnum PI, even though Lindsay wouldn’t let me grow the ‘stache.
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