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placeholder MAY 6, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 9   •   Oakland, CA
Even for a professional,
working with aging parent a tough conversation

While on a visit home to my mother in Ireland, I had to face what every child of a stubborn woman would deem as her worst nightmare: introducing changes all over the house for safety reasons.

Trying to convince my mother was going to be the hardest thing to do. Yes, I have been in the home care business for 26 years, but all of that went out the window when it came down to reality.

Due to her arthritis, my mother has mobility issues and cannot vacuum or clean as well as she would want to. I first had to make her home safer before tackling the housecleaner pitch. I asked her if I could vacuum and as I went along I picked up all kinds of rugs, runners and mats, 16 in all. These were treacherous, a major trip hazard. After inspection, she saw a more open, cleaner-looking place. She decided to keep just one mat at the front door. That was a huge success.

My mother loves gadgets, especially in her kitchen. I told her she needed more counter space. I unplugged everything! I retired George Foreman, the coffeemaker, waffle and sandwich maker. She had a food processor that was huge and an old microwave the size of her old TV. I put them aside and left her electric kettle and toaster plugged in.

She loved the space. I asked her if she used any of these items anymore. She said the microwave was all. I told her I would get a new compact one that was safer. She was happy with that.

The trunk of the car was now open and I was far from finished. I had her neighbor come in and check the wiring all over the house. I had him explain all that stuff left plugged was dangerous. She agreed totally.

She has fallen often so she agreed to a "lifeline" installation in her bedroom. She won't wear the bracelet now but I'm not done yet.

I have to return soon and I have a lot of other things I have to work on with her. So far she agrees less is more, and no point in keeping stuff that you don't use. She loves to give. All that stuff went to the Wheelchair Association.

Upon my second trip home within five weeks I found out my mother had a blackout at the front door, fell and does not know how long she was out for. I got her immediately to the doctor. Her blood pressure was drastically low. She also wasn't taking her meds properly. I went straight to the pharmacy and ordered a medi-set. She wasn't happy but I explained she was forgetting her midday meds and I was a nervous wreck about her passing out again. These will be done weekly on doctor's orders,

The next issue was her substantial weight loss. She used to joke at me that a church mouse would starve in my house as I live alone and I never had anything in it. She literally had a freezer full of stuff but nothing in the fridge. I found out she gets panic attacks in crowds and the last time she tried to go shopping she had a bad one. I set up an account with our local grocer. All she has to do now is call and they will deliver any time.

The next order of business was a new bed, mattress and headboard. Her back is an ongoing problem and the bed is as old as myself. Her friend is coming over to put on the new bedding for her. I surprised her with new carpet and a smaller dining set in her living area. She now has the bug of de-cluttering. She invested in a new smaller suite of furniture and she's delighted with the change: loads of room, no more rugs! Again we filled her car up with stuff for the Wheelchair Association right up to the moment I had to leave. It was heartbreaking seeing her cry when I left. How lonely it is for her with all four children in the Bay Area.

This is a slow process, but necessary. My siblings are taking turns going home with a plan in place. My brother will be home for a visit. We want her to come back here with him for a few months. She's thinking about it!

(Sash Nagle, a native of Ireland, is co-owner of Irish Help at Home. In her 26 years in the United States, she has worked as a caregiver before starting her company with Una Werner in 1996 to provide home care for seniors.)

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