A Home-Care Alternative To Nursing Homes

By Mary A. Dering

Modern medicine has made it possible for people to live longer and fuller lives. But in many cases, persons who reach an advanced age outlive their friends and spouses and remain alone to complete their lives. Often, the only alternatives open to these people are nursing homes or complexes designed for elderly but ambulatory residents. This article describes a third alternative that relies on family cooperation and a true spirit of solidarity. While it may not be suitable for every family, this plan provides some interesting food for thought.

In 1973, a woman whom we shall call Ann for purposes of this article was in relatively good health when her husband died. Ann had lived with him on the top floor of a two-story building; one of her daughters and the daughter’s family occupied the bottom floor. For the next four years, this living arrangement proved satisfactory. However, in 1977 Ann’s daughter sold the building and she and her husband and children moved to a smaller house that would not accommodate Ann.

For the next six years, Ann moved in with another daughter. She was ambulatory, in relatively good health and could cook her own meals. However, Ann then began to “slip” mentally and physically. She occasionally left the stove on and the water running. The daughter with whom she lived couldn’t leave Ann alone without worrying and soon the responsibility became too great for Ann’s daughter to handle.

Sharing the Responsibility

Ann’s children then tried to share the responsibility for their mother’s care. Ann lived with each of her four children for several days at a time, but this arrangement lasted only a few months. Finally, Ann’s children decided to rent a small apartment for her. It was equi-distant from the homes of two of Ann’s children, and it was a plan that Ann herself proposed. Each of the children planned to live with Ann for two days per week on a rotating basis at the apartment. This arrangement has lasted since 1983.

Ann’s children feel that this arrangement can last as long as they are healthy and as long as Ann is not bedridden or incontinent, at which point they would call in outside help. Ann is still ambulatory though her hearing and eyesight are not acute. Occasionally she needs to be supervised while dressing or in the bathroom. There are many practical and not so practical points to be considered when exploring this type of care. Should our readers wish to consider this type of arrangement, examine all of the implications carefully. It’s not for everyone, but it has worked for Ann and her family.

Considering the Pro’s and Con’s

The Good Points

  1. A rotation system divides responsibility equally among several people.
  2. The person cared for can remain in his/her own familiar surroundings. A freer, more comfortable atmosphere is better for the patient. Ann also sees one or another of her children every day. To say the least, this is an important factor in the life of an aging parent.
  3. There are intangible rewards for those who care for shut-ins. Also, familycare avoids the often prohibitive cost of nursing homes.
  4. If the person cared for is financially self-sufficient, the other family members need not absorb any extra costs.

Points to Consider

  1. Those who care for the elderly person must be flexible and should realize that they will sometimes need to miss an engagement of their own in order to complete a rotation.
  2. Spouses/children of those caring for a patient are left alone for two days and two nights. A longer stay may be required when illness or vacations are involved. Therefore, persons with small children would not be able to absent themselves from home for this length of time each week, unless other arrangements can be made.
  3. Consider the boredom factor. Often, there is little stimulation other than reading and/or television to occupy the caretaker. And, two days spent in a home that is not one’s own might prove disorienting. However, this situation can be turned into an advantage. How many books and other written material have gone unread because there was no time! This can be the time to begin. Above all, both the caretaker and the elderly relative need a large dose of humor and faith that the arrangement can and will work out. It may turn out to be a great emotional and spiritual experience for all those concerned.

Mary Dering is a free-lance writer, living in New York City where she attends St. Mary Magdalene Mission Parish.

Mary Dering is a free-lance writer, living in New York City where she attends St. Mary Magdalene Mission Parish.