When I was looking for a place for Mom, the Wellness Office should’ve been on my radar–but it wasn’t.
There used to be a time when I didn’t have to think about dementia, bad colds and infections, and how all of those things could affect Mom. Nor did I think about how essential an amazing Wellness Office at an assisted living community needed to be. Like so many other things, I think about them now. A lot.
It was 7 A.M. and we were slowly crawling through the drop-off line at the middle school. Our oldest daughter was furiously stuffing the last of her things into her bag, doing a last second ‘check’ of her hair, and simultaneously giving me precise instructions of when and where to stop to be sure she got out at just the right spot.
I’m used to this so I did as I was told. We said our goodbyes and the door slammed shut. Out of reflex, I changed the radio station, exhaled, and began thinking about my day. When my phone started buzzing, I looked at the number (hands-free of course!) and immediately recognized it as Mom’s assisted living community. A must-answer.
A bad carnival ride
It was the Wellness Office at Mom’s assisted living community. They’d observed a change in Mom’s behavior. My stomach immediately dropped the way it would if I was on a bad carnival ride. She was “markedly more confused and harder to redirect,” they said. Oh no.
I was completely caught off-guard by the call. I’d just spoken with Mom the night before. “She sounded like she typically does on the phone with me,” I thought. The carnival ride started to spin faster and faster.
I didn’t realize I hadn’t said anything in return until heard the nurse saying, “Mr. Perrin…..are you still there?”
“Yes, yes I am,” I replied. “What does this mean. What can I do?” I asked, feeling helpless. If I were there, I’d drive right over and see what was what. But I wasn’t and I couldn’t. I live two and a half hours from Mom, and the physical distance between us added an almost unbearable weight to my helpless feeling.
But it didn’t last
Almost instantly, the nurse calmed me down. They wanted to run a test or two to rule out infection, which is common, and can increase levels of confusion. But I could orchestrate those tests remotely, no problem. So after a couple of phone calls to coordinate her care, and a call to Mom, I was feeling slightly less helpless. Action was being taken to make sure she was ok; I felt myself relax a tiny bit.
My next call was to my Uncle. At the beginning of this caregiving journey, I used to hesitate to ask for help–not wanting to be a burden. Not anymore. I asked if he’d drop by and visit Mom, just to see how she looked, hear how she sounded–which he kindly did. When he called back to say she seemed good, I was feeling even less helpless. For the time being at least, everything seemed ok.
Fast forward a few days and we’re in a familiar spot of uncertainty. The tests for infection came back negative. Normally, this definitive answer would bring relief. No infection, great! But unfortunately, in Mom’s case, it spawns a (seemingly) endless cycle of questions:
What was happening on that day?
What prompted Mom to present the way she did?
Is something else going on?
What could it be?
Will she bounce back?
Is it going to get worse?
On and on. And on. But thankfully Mom isn’t showing any signs of increased confusion (so far), and she’s know longer having trouble being redirected. Further, her cold symptoms have finally gone by the wayside. She seems to be back to her old new self.
We’d been to the neurologist recently, and were at her primary care about six weeks ago, but we’ll go again soon in the hopes of putting an (at least a temporary) end to the question cycle.
In the meantime, this turn of events reminded of something that I believe is worth sharing.
I underestimated the Wellness Office when looking for a place for Mom
The Wellness Office at Mom’s assisted living community helped enormously during this situation. They, with assistance from others at the community, noticed the change in Mom’s behavior and took immediate action. As Mom’s son, I’m grateful for that (understatement). While I’m grateful for the care they provided, I’m feel incredibly fortunate for the way they provided it.
The staff didn’t just check the box and call the contact they had on file. They didn’t tell me she seemed off and drop it all in my lap. The nurse knew the context when she made that phone call to me. She understood that I was two and a half hours away and that I’m Mom’s only child. Her choice of words, empathetic approach to the conversation, and generally calming and supportive demeanor helped me get off that bad carnival ride almost as quickly as I got on.
At times like this, saying I feel fortunate for the Wellness Office, and the great people who work there, seems entirely inadequate. These are the times where they show themselves as invaluable partners. They care for Mom when she’s sick, and when she’s not they play an active role in helping her live her best life–with grace, compassion and humility. And as a result, they care for me too. They truly seem to understand that they are caring for the whole family.
If I were looking for a place for Mom again
We were lucky because when we were looking for the right place for Mom, I didn’t fully appreciate what the Wellness Office and their programs really meant to residents. I met some of the people briefly and reviewed the programs they offer. But I didn’t really dig in. I wouldn’t leave it to chance again.
I didn’t take scenarios like this one into account when I was assessing how they would care for Mom when the chips were down and when they weren’t, not to mention how they’d help us as family unit. And in this case, it was more than just help. It was a game changer.
So if I had to hit the rewind button on our search for a place for Mom, I’d evaluate the Wellness Center–staff, approach, and resident feedback–with a much keener eye than I did. It’d be at the top of my checklist of things to get a deep feel for. I’d ask to meet them (ideally without sales and marketing present) and ask questions like:
What’s the staff to resident ratio on any given shift?
How long has the leadership been there?
What kind of staff turnover do they experience?
When do they review resident care plans with the family?
What kind of training does the staff receive? Other credentials? Dementia certifications?
How often do they communicate with residents’ families?
What are their emergency protocols?
*Bonus – It’s not a question, but I’d also look up the company on sites like Glassdoor and focus on Welness related employees to see what is being said. To me, it’s indicative of culture that could impact how you’re loved one’s cared for.
If I had to find a place for Mom again, I’d do everything I could to ensure that the kindness, compassion, and self-awareness we’ve encountered recently were just standard, a part of the culture of the place.
Fortunately for Mom, and me, at her community’s Wellness Office, kindness and compassion are part of the package. They were amazing in their care of Mom. And I stayed sane because of it, so they cared for me, too.
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