Senior Housing

Meet Sue Anne W. Kirkham, author of Loving Zelda – A Stepdaughter’s Caregiving Journal

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by Sue Anne W. Kirkham

How it all began:

It was late October when my husband, Jack, and I showed up at my father and stepmother’s townhouse to walk their two dogs—a duty we’d taken on several months earlier, after they announced they no longer felt up to the task. At 84, my father suffered from respiratory and circulatory problems; at 81, my stepmother showed early signs of dementia, with some Parkinson’s-like tremors erupting, just to keep things interesting. I was determined that they not be forced by these circumstances to give up their pets. On this day, Dad greeted us at the door with another shocker. “We have to move into assisted living.” No hello. No how ya doin? Just this stark declaration.

Dad and Zelda had always been younger than their years in every respect. He continued his career as a psychologist into his late 70s, and the warm, witty, delightful woman he married in 1972 had always been active and ready for a new adventure. Each enjoyed absorbing hobbies, and they eagerly traveled the globe together for most of their 32-year marriage.

As Jack and I herded the pups that chilly autumn day, I remained troubled by the prospect of a radical change in lifestyle for my beloved father and stepmother. So I hatched a plan: leave my dreary clerical position and devote myself to lightening their load and injecting some sparkle back into their lives. I would carve out a new weekday vocation as companion/housekeeper/social director/exercise coach/assistant cook.

I kept a journal from Day One as, over the next 18 months, Zelda suffered incremental losses of mental acuity. Less noticeably, my father’s COPD was cranking toward a dramatic climax that none of us anticipated. While I focused on finding enough fingers to plug the ever-multiplying holes in the home-front dike, Dad’s staunch self-sufficiency propelled him through his own physical deterioration. Meanwhile, I watched Zelda—former organizer of Fourth of July kitchen band marches—fade into confusion. To be at her side through the slow, agonizing loss of her Self would prove to be the most affecting experience of my life. It soon became clear that the course I was chronicling was strewn with striking contrasts: moments of high hilarity and wrenching despair; snapshots of the struggle for dignity in the face of decline; arcs of mood between fear and optimism, gratitude and resentment. Hobbling my efforts to navigate these troubled waters was the crushing blow of friends and family members challenging my motives, questioning my trustworthiness.

This enterprise had much to teach me about life and death, human limitations, faith, and endurance. The struggle, as they say, was real. But the joys and rewards were every bit as genuine.

Why I wrote about it:

As my time with Dad and Zelda ended, a fresh commitment shaped my mission: I had been seeking a book topic I felt passionate about. This was that subject. I would share our experiences, unique amidst all the universal similarities, to promote understanding and support others confronting the challenge of caring for those who once cared for us. I chose the memoir format because, as dementia robbed Zelda of her voice, my journal became the story; it painted a complete and authentic picture for readers. Memoir also allowed for the interweaving of  family history, a fleshing out of characters, and a means of affirming through narration the individual’s continuing worth, untainted by the loss of physical and cognitive abilities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue Anne Kirkham is a freelance writer who blogs atwww.yourrecipesforlife.com. She has published print articles on aging and family relations as well as online profiles of inspiring everyday heroes, and essays on health-conscious living and the peculiarities of contemporary culture.

FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:

 

FOLLOW THE AUTHOR:

Author website: www.lovingzelda.com

Author Facebook page: @LovingZeldaCaregiving/

Twitter: @SueAnneKirkham1

LinkedIn: Sue Anne Kirkham

This Week’s Good News!

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This story warmed my heart in a very big way. The newly married bride is 103 and her groom is 100. Between the two of them, they have four spouses whom they loved dearly before they departed this earth. It looks like these two love birds hold the secret to happily ever after. Wait until you read about their Ohio-based love!

This Week’s Good News!

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Who doesn’t like a little pampering now and then? A Stanwood, WA retirement community believes everyone should feel a sense of worth and pride when it comes to appearance, knowing that it’s not just how you look that is most important, it’s how you feel. I am quite certain you will love this story that celebrates the gift of volunteerism.

This Week’s Good News!

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Good news abounds in Harrison, Arkansas, and a 5th grader is the one who set this story in motion.

Ruby Kate Chitsey spends lots of time in nursing homes because her mother is a nurse practitioner and Ruby Kate loves to join her mother while she’s at work. Ruby noticed something at nursing homes that wasn’t getting the attention she felt it deserved. Wait until you read this brief story about how this young girl took charge of making life in nursing homes better for those who live within.

Grandma and Grandpa pods

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I wrote this article five years ago and I’m posting it again today because it is one of the most viewed posts on my blog. Financial figures are five years old so current, 2018/2019 figures will be considerably higher.

I read a fabulous article in the “Home” section of today’s Seattle Times newspaper.  It’s a throwaway section that I always read before I toss it into the recycle basket.

Publicity photo of Will Geer and Ellen Corby a...
Publicity photo of Will Geer and Ellen Corby as Grandpa and Grandma Walton from the television program The Waltons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of us are getting older – there’s no cure for that other than not growing older by leaving this earth before you’re ready – so where are all of us going to live – especially Granny and Pappy who can no longer safely live on their own?

Long-term care (LTC) facilities have priced themselves out of most households’ bank accounts and the alternative solution of having grandparent sitters is cumbersome and expensive in itself.  What’s an adult child to do?  If you have space on your property to have a guest house newly built or better yet, if you’re willing to turn your sunporch or guesthouse into accommodations for mom and dad, the original outlay of funds will pay for itself because you will have avoided the need for a facility’s ultra-expensive long-term care services.

One company that makes the pods spotlighted in the Seattle Times’ article is called Home Care Suites.  Disclaimer: I am not advocating for this company’s product.  I am merely pulling information out of the article and presenting it to the reader so you can do research that applies to your situation and your budget.

The pods made by this company range in size from 256 to 588 square feet with prices ranging from $42,000 to $83,000.  This is no drop in the bucket but let’s consider the cost of facility care.  Genworth (who sells long-term care insurance) states that the average monthly fee for assisted-living (AL) was $3,300 in 2012.  I think that’s a very naive figure based on my experience of having worked in the LTC housing industry.  Maybe Genworth’s lower number is just the cost for monthly rent – but what about care services?  Cha-ching!!!  Now you’re looking at double that amount and the cost will only go higher as care needs increase.  But even at only $3,300 per month, that amounts to $158,400 for a four-year period.  See how do-able the pod concept seems now?

Many of the AL service needs are simple monitoring of a resident – tasks that you can do for your loved one: waking them up, helping them get dressed, a certain amount of medication assistance, meal provision.  Many seniors living in AL facilities don’t need the massive hands-on care of bathing assistance, toileting services, physical therapy, etc.  I know for a fact that if a family member has the time – and a little patience – they can provide these lower acuity services on their own for quite some time before securing hands-on medical care for the elder member of their household.

Skipping ahead to after Grandma and Grandpa/Mom and Dad have passed on, you now are left with an added structure on your property which you can transform back into the porch or game room of its earlier existence, or simply leave as is as a guest room that may accommodate someone else in your family.  I have to believe that your initial investment in constructing a pod is an investment that you won’t regret.  And don’t forget – the costs for such a project aren’t necessarily out of your own pocket.  Perhaps Grandma or Grandpa are willing to pull some of their savings out from underneath their mattress and contribute to the cost of this alternative living arrangement that would certainly be more attractive to them than a lengthy stint at an AL facility or nursing home.  Just saying.

The Alzheimer’s Community

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I have been closely involved in matters regarding Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia for eighteen years now: long-term care (LTC) housing, memory care, Alzheimer’s support group facilitator, and Washington State LTC Ombudsman. But it took me becoming a published author of a novel that focuses on a family’s Alzheimer’s disease experience before I finally found my Alzheimer’s community.

AlzAuthors is a group comprised of over 170 published authors (as of this writing) who have published fiction and non-fiction books reflective of their personal Alzheimer’s experience. The six members of the AlzAuthors Management Team (Team) is the Alzheimer’s community about which I speak.

The Team’s motto says it all:

We can sing a lonely song, or form a choir and create harmony.

Without exception, the authors featured on our site and each member of our Management Team had the experience of struggling with the learn-as-you-go-task of caring for someone with cognitive impairment. We all made mistakes, and we learned from them, but we also had successes, and we celebrated them.

As a recent addition to the AlzAuthors Management Team, I became even more convinced that my personal Alzheimer’s community resides within this group. The support, the kindness, the giving nature reflected within the Team is incomparable in my experience, and we are not just keeping it to ourselves. AlzAuthors is spreading their influence into numerous parts of the world…which is kinda why they asked me to join the team as their Global Outreach Coordinator. The six of us know our presence is evident in more countries than just the United States, but our imagination and passion is boundless so we have set out to become a household word in small and large communities throughout the world.

Why AlzAuthors? Because this 100% volunteer group has brought together some of the best books on Alzheimer’s and other dementia in one central location: our bookstore. We’ve categorized those books to make the personal caregivers’ or professionals’ shopping experiences an easy one with categories such as: Caring for Parents or Grandparents, Caring for Spouses or Partners, Living with Dementia, and Children and Teen books, to name a few. We know a caregiver’s “free” time is limited or non-existent, so we’ve done our best to make their shopping experience an easy one. They simply click on the cover of the book they’re interested in and they are taken directly to Amazon to make the paperback, eBook, or audiobook purchase.

We’re working hard so you don’t have to.

And finally, we understand the journey of unpaid (family & friend) caregivers because:

  • We have experienced the loss of a loved one with dementia.
  • We know the pain of being forgotten.
  • We all have witnessed decline.
  • We have provided countless hours of caregiving.
  • We know many others have experienced the same and we believe in the power of sharing those stories.

Kindness Fridays

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This week’s kindness spotlights the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) a fabulous group for writers of women’s fiction. Most if not all the administrative staff is volunteer – the reason why their kindness is this week’s selection. As a member of this organization, I was given the opportunity to have a podcast recorded for their Hear Me Roar program because I’m a debut author. Although my novel, Requiem for the status quo was released a year ago, it was my debut publishing effort.

This podcast is approximately 30 minutes in length, and although my novel is certainly the focus, much attention was spent on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in the world. Perhaps this podcast will keep you company on your commute in the next few days; although it may seem a bit choppy, I think it’s worth hanging in there to hear my, and the host’s, provocative discussion.