The Human Cost of a Forgotten Option

    Her husband gone, Paula moved thousands of miles away from her children and grandchildren to live with her aged mother, who refused to leave her own home. Although healthy and rational, her mother can no longer take care of it—or herself.

    Many years ago, Alfred promised his wife he would never put her in “one of those places.” Gradually, after she stopped being able to dress herself, cook, or remember where she put things, he took on ever more of their daily tasks. One day, when he was in the next room folding laundry, she fell and broke her hip. He was physically unable to care for her after that, and she ended up in a nursing home anyway.

    These names have been changed to protect the innocent. Not innocent as in not guilty; innocent in the sense of unaware—of missed opportunities and future consequences.

    A recent article in Forbes magazine listed the top priorities for caregivers of elders, beyond the routine tasks: Coordinate medical care, encourage the loved one to make their own decisions, provide social activities, stay up to date on technology, practice mindful communication, assure a safe environment, educate yourself, and be sure you get a break now and then.

    “Caregiving’s hard. I don’t think people realize how hard,” says Margaret Chantry, administrator of Warm Valley Lodge, the assisted living facility in Dubois. “It’s an all-encompassing, day-after-day commitment.”

    Sadly, Chantry says, many people mentally skip over the option that could spare them that burden, while potentially deferring or even avoiding a far more costly nursing home: Level 1 assisted living, for people who are well enough to move about and follow routine directions, but are no longer able to manage household maintenance and perhaps financial details.

    “Many people caregive in the home for so long that their relative no longer qualifies,” Chantry adds.

    Warm Valley Lodge is like an apartment building with all the amenities, and more. Residents live in self-contained apartments with their own belongings, where they can receive housekeeping, laundry services, daily restaurant-style meals prepared by a chef from Jackson Hole, and help with medications or medical visits as needed. It is a safe and stimulating environment with skilled, attentive staff keeping watch 24/7.

    Although people may resist leaving their homes, Level 1 assisted living actually increases their independence by removing unnecessary burdens. To qualify, residents need to be able to ambulate (perhaps with a walker) and take care of personal hygiene, but require some assistance in chores. Family members can come and visit relatives who still live in their own homes, doing their own thing in a living environment that offers regular activities like excursions into the mountains and visits to museums and restaurants.

    All too often, Chantry says, families discount this option when they reach the point that Mom or Dad is no longer the same person they knew and loved. But that doesn’t mean they don’t qualify.

    “People think that if someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s, they have to have memory care. It’s not necessarily true,” she explains. “The fact is that we can support memory loss. We can help by giving reminders, redirecting them if they become agitated, and keeping watch to be sure that they are doing as well as they can.”

    Sandy, for instance, has gone out into the badlands with a volunteer who loves having her as a hiking companion. She needs help deciding which jacket and hat to wear before they leave, but as they walk she is animated and talkative. Along the way, they meet another hiker, whom Sandy greets like an old friend (although they’ve never met). When she says she feels a bit unsteady, they stop for a drink of water and slowly head back.

    “I always love hiking here,” Sandy says, although she’s never been exactly there before. “The leaves on the aspens over there are so beautiful, and golden – like they have captured the sunshine. And the sky is so unique.”

    She still remembers her old home, but she doesn’t miss it. Now she has a new one. For further information, call 307-455-2645 or visit our website here.

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