In the early days of learning about dementia, I read some articles I found on the Internet. A constant thread throughout all of the articles focused on minimizing change. Apparently, moving my mother from Florida to Ohio presented more changes than she was capable of handling.
When I chose a place for mother to live, I kept several factors in mind trying to mitigate the amount of change. I looked at apartments, senior communities, and retirement communities. The retirement communities (or assisted living facilities) were more expensive and mother did not have the monthly income to sustain such an arrangement. Assisted living facilities are able to take Medicaid residents; however, the waiting list for those apartments is usually years long. The apartments in the town where I lived were also too expensive for her. I looked at a one-bedroom, first-floor apartment that was so depressing to me I could not imagine living there myself let alone moving her there. Finally, I settled on a senior-living apartment complex situated about halfway between where I worked and where I lived. I thought this would be important for me when I would be called on to help her. The benefits I saw for her included: no residents under the age of 55; no children; convenient to shopping, a secluded neighborhood where she could walk; a clubhouse offering a variety of activities; and round-the-clock maintenance availability. This environment was nearly identical to her neighborhood in Florida and I felt the similarities would make the transition easier for her. Boy was I wrong!
My theory was solid. The one thing I had not factored into the equation was mother’s complete resistance to change. The apartment was new and mother was the first tenant. The space was beautiful with many amenities, including a spare bedroom where she could keep all of the “stuff” she had to bring with her. She even had flowerbeds where she was free to plant flowers if she wanted. None of these things mattered. Mother’s fixation with Florida would not be broken and, for years, I fielded the question, “When can I go home?” Instead of integrating herself into her new community, she withdrew into a catacomb of depression. Try as I might, she would not make any effort to assimilate herself.
When I think about the situation today, I see some solutions that I could have tried. The clubhouse offered card games, crafting times, puzzles, a lending library, and even offered coffee and donuts every other Saturday. The management of the complex held occasional cookouts and shuffleboard tournaments. A couple of times, the management planned day trips on a bus for the residents. Perhaps if I had gone with mother to one of these events, she would have felt more comfortable and made more of an effort to make friends. (When I mentioned making friends, she would retort that she was her own best company.) In a roundabout way, however, she did make friends with the neighbors on either side of her. My sister provided the funds and I purchased a swing for her front porch area. She would sit on her swing in the mornings and neighbors passing by would stop to chat. At least it was something.
In much of the material I’ve read on aging and dementia, the experts indicate that having friends and regularly interacting with others keeps one’s mind active and alert. Reaching beyond ourselves to be part of another person’s life is healthy for both sides. I believe that if mother had integrated more with her community, the dementia would not have progressed as swiftly. All of us, not just seniors, need to be part of a community.