As long as I’ve known her, my grandmother has been an introvert. This was exacerbated when her husband passed away in 2003. Left with no family in North Carolina, she moved to Kansas City to be near my mother, the eldest of her five children.
Over the past 10 years, my grandmother’s social skills have declined, along with her memory. Otherwise, she is a perfectly healthy 80-something-year-old woman. No matter how hard we tried encouraging her to get involved or try to get to know her neighbors, she wasn’t interested. It got to the point that she was uncomfortable interacting with anyone besides my mom and dad. Conversation didn’t come naturally to her, and I truly believe that her memory was declining because of her lack of social interaction. My mom, along with the other siblings, finally realized that no matter how much time my parents spent with her, they couldn’t provide the 24/7 memory-specific care that my grandmother so desperately needed. After research, hard work and thoughtful consideration, my mom decided to move her to a community with memory support. When deciding which community to select, it was the outstanding nursing staff that made us all confident this was the place to engage and help my grandmother.
My grandmother was incredibly resistant to this transition. She was very vocal that she never wanted to live at a community or any type of assisted living center, because of the perception she grew up with about “nursing care facilities.” But ultimately, her safety and well-being were the top priorities, and a memory support community was the very best answer. Upon arrival, she was extremely unhappy. My mom, along with the head nurse, helped explain to my grandmother that her doctors did not want her living alone any longer. She said “no way” would she stay there. With that, the head nurse asked my grandmother if she would like to walk around with her, and my grandmother said “OK.” As she was touring, we could hear my grandmother saying how beautiful things were. This was just the beginning of her ease into the community and this new transition of her life. And it was also an example of how important the nursing staff is in deciding which community to select. Without this particular head nurse, I know the transition wouldn’t have gone as smoothly for my grandmother – or for my mom.
Within the first month, during various visits we made and hearing updates from the nursing staff – we were delighted to hear that my grandmother was taking part in socializing, exercising and enjoying the company of others. It’s been amazing to see the progress my grandmother has made over the past few months. While her dementia is still prevalent, I strongly believe that the social stimulation she is experiencing will lead her to age successfully – living better, longer.
This experience has made me so grateful for my job and the knowledge I’ve acquired these past few years. It has opened my eyes and helped solidify the decision my husband and I have made to move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community when the time comes – and we plan to move into Independent Living while we can still take advantage of all it has to offer. CCRCs are truly “resorts” nowadays, and it’s my hope that the “nursing home” perception continues to fade over time. Because I can’t help but wonder, if my grandmother hadn’t had her preconceived notions – if she had moved to an Independent Living community 10 years ago and not experienced such social isolation – would her memory have been stronger than it is now?