Our family worried about Dad living alone after Mom died. We worried about what would happen if he fell or had a problem. No one could move in with him and he didn’t want to move away from Florida. So, we hired a company that helps you find an ALF and located a nearby place that could meet Dad’s needs. My sister and I immediately liked it when we walked in the door. It was a beautiful setting and he was able to get a fairly large apartment.
We felt good about the decision and got Dad moved and settled. However, since Dad was a little leary, we decided to keep his house for the time being. The market in his area wasn’t good and we’d need some time to prepare it for sale.
So why did we ditch the ALF?
Unfortunately, the ALF wasn’t the solution we’d imagined. We thought Dad would be happy with people surrounding him and lots of activities. However, Dad didn’t enjoy most of the activities his ALF offered. Many residents had cognitive issues. Though most were fairly minor, it was still difficult for Dad as he was mentally sharp and intellectually curious. Other than a few of their outings, he never really found anything at the ALF he enjoyed.
Dad wanted to sleep in, read his newspapers, listen to NPR and eat a light brunch, as he did at home. Of course, that didn’t fit the ALF schedule where they served breakfast early and lunch just after he wanted to be having his first meal. The staff needed to help him with his shower, but they only did showers in the mornings. Dad preferred staying up late, having a leisurely morning and showering before bed, but it was difficult for staff to adjust around his unique schedule.
Missing the Joys of Home
He also had pretty set foods he liked to eat. Even though the ALF food was tasty, Dad missed being able to eat what he wanted when he wanted it. As a diabetic, they were also strict with him. Rightfully so, as they wanted to keep him safe. However, Dad had learned to handle his diabetes well over the years. He felt he should be able to “cheat” a bit when he wanted. The strict rules made him feel he’d lost his freedom of choice.
Dad also missed his garden. Though he wasn’t able to be outside for long periods doing physical work, we hadn’t quite realized how much he would miss tinkering in the garden. Or, even just sitting there and watching the plants and birds. The ALF had a nice outdoor area, but it was a long walk from Dad’s room. He got upset when the ALF staff recommended he only go with an escort…but then weren’t available to help most times.
As Dad explained one day, “I’m trying to make this my home, but I can’t escape the institutional feel. I have to eat, sleep, bathe, dress when everyone else does. I go out when their shuttle takes me when and where they have planned. They don’t want me to have a couple drinks or a piece of chocolate…it all makes me feel like a chastened kid.”
The ALF didn’t provide the stress relief we’d imagined
While the ALF staff was generally helpful, we hadn’t realized we’d be spending so much time dealing with various issues. We quickly learned we had to check in on Dad regularly. When we visited, we’d often hear a complaint from Dad or find some small problem. The ALF had appealed to us on the surface, but we wished we’d understood more about it on a deeper level.
Because Dad was in a new environment without his usual routine, he had some difficulties we hadn’t seen before. Physically, he seemed frailer. He wasn’t as engaged. Dad’s always had a positive attitude, so even though his complaints were modest, they still concerned us.
Ditching the ALF and Heading Home
Once we saw how unhappy Dad was, we started researching options. Dad’s attorney referred me to EasyLiving and I chatted with a care manager. We decided to hire her to evaluate Dad’s needs, look at his home and offer a possible plan for his care at home. She helped us compare the options, pros and cons of the move home, and potential pitfalls.
I wish we’d done this before deciding on the ALF, as we soon discovered it would be quite feasible for Dad to live at home. We started by preparing the house so it would be safer for him. The care manager suggested rearranging furniture, removing some rugs, adding low door handles and making minor renovations in the bathroom. It only took a week or so to get it all set up, with minimal cost.
Click Here for our room-by-room Aging in Place Checklist for a quick idea of the updates your parent’s home might need.
We then talked with Dad about his routine and getting some regular help. Dad did well with his morning routine and liked spending that time alone. So, we decided to have a caregiver come in four days/week in the late afternoons. She would prepare an early supper and some extra meals for Dad, do some light housekeeping, and help him with baths and shaving. On one or two days each week she ran errands and/or took Dad to appointments and outings.
EasyLiving completed a questionnaire with Dad about his preferences and made sure the caregiver knew them. For example, she understood his passion for his garden, so she not only talked to him about it but encouraged him to enjoy time in the garden. She even ended up helping him with some new plantings and talked to us about creating a more accessible path in the backyard.
The care manager suggested a pillbox since Dad had several medications but seemed pretty adept with his routine. She also suggested making an appointment with his primary care physician to get a checkup for the move home, and to review medications. We set up a series of check-in visits with the care manager throughout the transition, so we’d be reassured. And, it was also a way to be sure this was working for Dad. We wanted him to feel like an active participant since he had lacked that at the ALF.
With a carefully thought-out plan, we took the time to set up everything properly for the transition. Right away, we knew we’d made the right decision. Dad was like a different person (actually, like his old self). We still had worries, of course, but we knew there would always be risks. Over the first couple months, the care manager made some suggestions and we adjusted the plan a bit.
Lessons Learned from our Experience
We learned that every elder and family’s experience and needs are different. Because friends talked about how an ALF helped their parent, we assumed it was THE answer. Our big mistake was not getting an independent assessment at first. We just didn’t realize how easy, and affordable, it could be for Dad to “age in place”.
And, we had assumed Dad would benefit from the ALF’s activities and socialization. But, an ALF (or that ALF, at least) didn’t offer the right fit for him. If we decide at some point Dad needs a care facility, we’ll ask our care manager to help us in the search and making the move. We realize now there might have been a better fit for him. And, we might have arranged things differently, such as hiring a caregiver so Dad could get out on his own and do favorite activities.
Focusing on our worries, we forgot to focus on the things that seemed minor but were vital to Dad’s wellbeing. It was a learning experience for all of us, and we hope it helps other families when they’re evaluating what to do.