Yesterday, an ice storm pounded our area. Freezing rain and wind swirled in the streets outside, and the bushes near the window became coated with ice.
“Aren’t they pretty?” said a resident as she walked by.
Yeah. Pretty. From the inside.
When 4:00 o’clock came, I checked the window again, frowning. It wasn’t letting up, and I had to go out and face it. As soon as I exited the building, a blast of freezing rain and wind whipped around me. I dreaded the incline that led to the bus stop, but an angel had salted it, and I made it to the top without incident. As soon as I turned the corner to head to the bus shelter, though, I was met with sheer ice. A strip of frozen grass gave me enough traction to creep to the outside of the shelter, and I stepped on a tiny patch of snow to bring me closer, but that as far as I could get. The path from my perch on the snow to the inside of the shelter was icy and treacherous.
The people inside the shelter must have wondered about the crazy lady who chose to stand outside in the bitter wind and freezing rain. My breath came in ragged gasps. There was no choosing involved—I couldn’t move. What if the bus came and I couldn’t get on? Each time I tried to take a tentative step forward, my foot slipped.
Rescue came in the form of my friend and co-worker, Mark. He arrived in the shelter and I frantically waved him over to help. He offered me an arm and together we took the slippery few steps to the inside of the bus shelter. “Just another day in the life of Superman,” he quipped. Indeed.
Elders who need to move to an area where they can get more care experience the same panic. They are perched on their patch of snow—all that is familiar to them. We—family, friends, care partners, medical professionals—are asking them to step into the slippery unknown. They resist, experience terror, change their minds and refuse. How can we be that arm extended that leads them to safety?
1. Understand. I was genuinely terrified on that patch of snow. I couldn’t see a way out, and there was no good outcome that I could discern. Even though it can be frustrating to the care partner who is trying to make the move happen, understand the terror this kind of change can bring to some elders.
2. Talk. A lot. Listen. A lot. Answer questions. Over and over again. Any life change is a process, and the elder needs to work it through in their mind first. If there is dementia, you may have the same conversation several times a day. This may happen even if no dementia is present. Give the elder the gift of patience as you explain again and again.
3. Just do it. There will come a point where a decision will have to be made, and your elder may not be willing to make it. Perhaps their physical needs have come to a crisis point, or maybe the perfect room is being offered and you have just a day to accept. For whatever reason, the decision often comes down to the care partner, and it may make you unpopular for a period of time. Make the best decision you can, and stick with it.
4. Familiar is better. Whether it’s a room or an apartment you are setting up, do your best to choose items that make it familiar and “homey” in the new place. Your elder may be able to help with these decisions, and it may be therapeutic to do so. Or, you may have to make all the decisions yourself. Look around where they live now, and make a list of treasured items that will help it feel like home. Be aware of space restrictions, but look for pictures, perhaps a favourite chair and other items that will increase the comfort level.
5. Support. Most transitions like this take months to complete. After the initial move, there may be weeks where your elder is unhappy. Things aren’t as they used to be, and the reality of failing health and abilities may colour every interaction for a while. Your support, and again your patience, is crucial throughout this period.
However, you may be surprised. I have seen it repeatedly that elders who have been barely coping independently, blossom when they feel the support of their care needs being met. There is still a transition time, but it’s shorter than you could ever imagine. It’s as if they had been holding their breath, trying to cope, and this new living arrangement allows them to let out that pent up breath and relax.
Or, they are perching precariously on a patch of snow, and you offer an arm.
CLICK TO TWEET