This past week, my mother passed away. She was 93 years old—three weeks shy of 94. For the last six years of her life, my mother resided in a nursing home.
Like most children, I believe that my mother was a great person. Without question, she was someone who loved being a parent and tried her hardest to be the best parent she could be. All my mother wanted to be in life was a mother, so measured from that perspective, her very long life was an absolute success.
Years ago, I was able to qualify my mother for Medicaid benefits. The fact that I qualified her for those benefits saved my father, aged 90, from financial ruin. My dad still lives at home and has been able to reside at home because my mom qualified for Medicaid benefits.
There are several things that I gathered from my personal experiences that resonate with me every day. People seek my advice about their parents and their parents’ need for long-term care. After meeting with thousands of people and measuring their experiences against my own, I can tell you that while we all believe we are unique people with a unique set of facts, the reality is, on whole, we are mostly very much the same.
My mother never wanted to live in a nursing home. I hear similar statements from clients all the time. But when I say my mother never wanted to live in a nursing home, I mean she never wanted to live in a nursing home and would have rather just died on the spot if she thought she would ever live in such a place.
Before my mother became a full-time resident of a nursing home, she was in nursing homes on two occasions for rehabilitation. When I would visit her during those short stays, she was practically hyperventilating from her agitation. No matter how many times I would tell her that she was only there for rehabilitation and would be going home soon, she wanted to go home right then and there. And she was adamant and angry.
After suffering several strokes, my mother suffered from vascular dementia. Due to her strokes, her care needs simply reached a level where it wasn’t feasible for her to remain at home, so we placed her in a nursing facility where she received excellent care for six years.
Because of the effects of dementia, my mother never realized that she was living in a nursing facility, so she was actually comfortable and peaceful in the nursing home. For the first four years of her stay, she was somewhat conversational and always appeared relaxed and relatively happy. Eventually, the dementia took over her mind to an extent where she wasn’t conversational, but she always appeared relaxed and comfortable.
So many people come to see me and tell me that they will never live in a nursing home. When they tell me this, I remember my mother. Sometimes a person’s care reaches a level where family members cannot provide the care. It would be unsafe for the person who needs the care to remain at home and for the caregiver to provide that care. Many caregivers—spouses or adult children—suffer mental and physical harm attempting to provide care to an elderly person at home.
So, the point I take away is, never say never, because if my mother spent six years in a nursing home, anyone can end up spending a significant amount of time in a nursing facility.
Another point I bear in mind with respect to my mother’s care is the way people view a particular nursing facility. Many people ask me for a referral of a “good” nursing home. I always tell people to visit www.medicare.gov, which is a government site that ranks nursing facilities on various criteria, and to visit the actual nursing home to get a sense of the care that is being provided. I also suggest that people chose a nursing home near their house, because it makes it much easier to visit the family member.
I thought the facility in which my mother resided is the best nursing facility. I thought the care she received was outstanding. The facts of her case bear my opinion out. She resided in that facility for six years, which is longer than any other client of mine has ever resided in a nursing facility and a lot of my clients have resided in nursing facilities. But I have had clients tell me they don’t like the nursing home where my mother lived. That’s fine, and that’s why I try not to recommend facilities. It’s a personal opinion.