My friend MariBeth is the only daughter of her mother Anna. MariBeth has three brothers, one who passed away several years ago from a lengthy illness. Even though the other two brothers live within five miles of Anna, just like MariBeth, they visit only about twice a year. This puts the entire burden of taking care of their aging mother Anna all on MariBeth.
Anna lives in an Independent community in our small town. It is “the” place to live for seniors, if you can’t live at home. Even though it’s the best in town Anna has not adjusted well to living in the community. She loves people and visitors, but refuses to engage or even go to the dining room for meals. She won’t walk her little dog, though perfectly capable, due to the fear of leaving her apartment and running into someone she doesn’t know. Anna is a sweet, funny, charming and intelligent, but scared. She has told me on numerous occasions when I visit how she just feels useless, bored and lonesome, yet she won’t take the initiative to change things. Anna was an office manager and court administrative director for a Texas judge until she retired. She is used to multi-tasking and thinking on her feet. The dementia she is experiencing at 80 is overwhelming to her, even though it would be considered mild in a professional assessment. MariBeth is at wit’s end on how to keep mom social, alert and active, with her doing this independently and not relying on MariBeth for everything. Anna is capable physically and for the most part mentally. It is surprising to her daughter, how this free spirited, indepedent and formerly socially active woman has changed over the past five years to a clingy, reclusive and insecure person. MariBeth is exhausted, lacks her own social life due to being at mom’s beck and call and becoming angry at her mom. She feels a tremendous amount of guilt for feeling this way.
MariBeth’s teenage son, Shane, seeing his mom exhausted and his grandmother depressed, came up with a creative idea to help him with school volunteer hours and to give them both some help. Shane went to his school counselor to find students whose parents are on reduced lunch programs. His idea was to gather newspapers and print coupons from the computer for his grandmother to help cut out and then anonymously send to these families to help with their grocery costs in today’s economy. It has now carried in to the government funded senior living center a few miles away for older adults as well. They deliver to those mature adults each month too. Here are some of the benefits MariBeth and Shane are seeing with grandma since the project began.
- This task/activity is simple & easy to coordinate for a lady who previously enjoyed paperwork or managing things. It’s repetitive and makes Anna feel like she is contributing to her community
- She spends quality time with her teenage grandson & now 3 of his friends 5 or 6 times a month, a great intergenerational activity and she is up on the current hit songs on the radio! She heard a song come on the radio when shopping with MariBeth and me the other day & said “that’s .50 cents! “ ~ we both nearly fell out of the car laughing. Seems her favorite is still George Strait, but she does that some of that GaGa girls songs.
- Encouraging her to help find coupons, has led her to getting out and asking her neighbors for magazines and newspapers that might have coupons too. Something she may have never done, if not for the fact she feels needed and that she is helping others. She now has 3 friends after 4 years at this community, they now comes to her apartment once a week to “clip”. She in turn has started having lunch with them on the “busy” days in the dining room. A first this past April. Up until then she had never dined in the dining room since her initial visit to make a reservation to move-in.
- She has organized an old office cardboard paper holder in her closet, a sort of multi-compartment coupon holder by food categories (“Dairy,” “Cleaning Products”). You may have a loved one that enjoys the sorting and organizing process too, if the cutting is too complicated. Someone in the early stages of the disease may be able to sort them by date, removing or taking out the expired coupons.
- Packaging and stamping the envelopes or boxes to send to the families has become fun. It is simple also. In the beginning they were delivered by the counselor, now they are mailed direct or delivered by Shane and his friends. Anna & her friends have started sharing notes of good wishes, hope and scriptures with some. They get so much joy from this they have now decided to try a stocking stuffer drive for each family this year for Christmas. The biggest stocking they can find filled with every kind of coupon or gift certificate they can gather.
- Computer use! Two of her friends now double the boy’s efforts by perusing and printing coupons of the internet too!
Now MariBeth visits when she wants to, as opposed to when she “has” to. Their visits are fun again and they have things to talk about. Anna enjoys quality time with her grandson and his friends, in turn this has gotten her to bake again, wanting to be sure “those little boys have a snack when they come”. Most of all Anna leaves her apartment and has friends. She has a purpose each day and she knows what the dining room looks like and how good the food is at her retirement community.
This is a story worth repeating for those you know in the same situation. At Legend Retirement we look for any opportunity we can to help our residents feel important.