A trip to see my great-grandmother highlights the importance of home care
My grandparents and me long ago
Nursing homes are nearing the end of a four-month lockdown, and for some states like Washington, it’s been even longer since families and friends could have physical contact with their loved ones.
I went to see my great-grandmother at her nursing home in Iowa this past weekend, and it highlighted the difference that home care could've made in her life. Thanks to technology and a growing senior population, the demand for in-home caregiving is expected to soar in the next few years.
This type of care wasn’t an option for great-grandmother Sarah, as she had an interesting relationship with her home. She loved the red house by the lake where her and my great-grandfather spent most of their lives. She also cherished the antiques she collected, which eventually crowded the decades-old house until the floors sagged and creaked.
After my great-grandfather passed away and she stopped taking care of herself, it became time for her to move out. My younger grandparents found a nursing home nearby where she would know other residents her age and people from the town could visit her. She was a prominent figure after all, working as the town’s kindergarten teacher for over 50 years.
My mom and I hadn't been back to Iowa since I was in high school, and I'm embarrassed to say it's been years since I've chatted to my grandmother on the phone. There's always the tired excuses of time, money and distance.
When my grandma and mom made the plan to meet in Iowa and make a lake vacation out of it, I jumped on board knowing the fragility of the nonagenarian's health.
During our visit, my mom, grandma and I pulled up to Sarah’s nursing home and walked over to the outside of her window. This was the closest we could get during COVID times, as is the norm with many nursing homes around the country.
My 90-something great-grandmother with dementia recognized my mom and I immediately, and tears welled up in my eyes with regret over not seeing her in more than a decade.
After 15 minutes outside her room and talking over the phone, it seemed clear that she was merely existing. She spoke mostly about food and it didn’t seem to register that we were there.
Her nurse aide told us that there’s 5 caregivers for 60 residents. This can’t leave as much time for human connection or to ensure that all of her needs are being met at every point of the day. One of the many benefits of home care is that families can be much more in control over the health and wellbeing of their loved one.
When we came back to the nursing home two days later, I was relieved to see the grandmother I remembered. She waved at us as we walked up to her window and waited for someone to bring a phone to her room.
She then bantered with us, telling us in a scolding voice to be careful about drinking and driving (it was the early afternoon and we were all sober). She told us that my uncle, a grown man, is special and we need to make sure he gets enough to eat. Oh, and she doesn’t approve of the older man that my mom is seeing (there’s no older gentleman in sight).
Dementia is not a joke, but we couldn’t help laughing along with her. This was the grandma with the twinkle in the eye that I knew. All of our garden tea parties and phone conversations came flooding back into my memory.
The experience had me wishing I had called her more and came to visit when she was more coherent.
Death and getting old isn't something our society is comfortable with. We like to push it out of our minds and prevent age from showing on our faces. I'm no different, as it wasn't at the top of my list to hold long, in-depth conversations over the phone, having to patiently explain my unconventional life to a traditional, midwestern woman.
I left with the strange thought that it would probably be the last time I would see her. I’m so glad we made the trip happen, even if we couldn't embrace.