Caring for Mom & Dad in Pandemic Times

Do we bring them home to live with us or keep them safe in their facility?


Published on 01 Jul 2020

You might think this is an odd blog for a remodeling company, but not really. Although we’re not in health care, we are all about making people’s lives better by remodeling homes to be more beautiful and functional.

So when this virus madness happened we immediately went into problem solving overdrive. We started offering virtual online consulting, started recording our field staff’s temperatures daily, and raided stores for every ounce of isopropyl alcohol we could find in lieu of sold-out hand sanitizers. We even thought about making our own still. Well, thought about it anyway.

We also thought about the proverbial “mother-in-law” apartment option. Bringing the aging parents home to live with children is common in many cultures. According to recent Pew research, 64 million Americans live in multigenerational households, approaching levels not seen since the 1950’s.

So the “extended family” option appears to be returning to our culture as a real option. In fact, one of our own design/build consultants, Nadia Glynn, did just that with her aging mother and discusses her experience in this short video…

What if you can’t move them back home to live with you?

Even with interest rates as low as they are, it’s not affordable for everyone. It may not even be appropriate to do so if they are experiencing more significant dementia. I remember the conversation I had with my wife, a Licensed Social Worker, just a few months ago about both our mothers who are in assisted living facilities.

“Do we move them out before this thing gets bad or keep them where they are to protect them?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head as a way of admitting she didn’t have an answer to that question. We had just moved my mother into assisted living before the pandemic broke out.

“Which is best for them? Which is safer?” she said, “That’s the million dollar question.”

“Well, most of the deaths are in senior care facilities, so that seems ominous and scary,” I replied.

“True, but if they do it right, it should be safer,” she replied, having worked as a fitness instructor at several senior care facilities until the lock down.

“But what about the long-term unknown of it all?” I said. “How long can anyone survive alone, locked up in a one-bedroom apartment with no physical contact and basically “zoomified” thumbnails heads for visitors?” I said.

“The conundrum of it all is they may be safer from infection, but not healthier in the long-run. The protection might be what actually harms or even kills them,” she replied.

Those words proved to be prophetic. In just the short time span between March and June, I witnessed my own mother's decline in memory, frustration and hopelessness while living alone and sequestered, with severely limited access by our family to personally attend or evaluate their daily needs or mental health. Daily phone calls are not enough.

“We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming - well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate.”

Photo: U.S. News & World Report

And no wonder. People cannot live without hope.

During a very recent conversation with a senior care worker from a north suburban facility, I was told that it could be another one to two years before normal, mask-less, face-to-face access to seniors in these facilities returns. Years? That can’t happen I thought. There’s no way I’m going to let that happen!

But what can we do? The new “relaxed” rules aren’t really much of a concession to contact with or access to our aging parents. We still can’t enter these facilities and see our parents living quarters. Or can we?

There is a way

By sheer accident my family discovered that there are two ways you can gain direct access to your aging parents and their apartments in senior care facilities…

  1. If you are an LSW (Licensed Social Worker)
  2. PCA (Individual Personal Care Assistant)

Most facilities will allow one family member to enter the building and have access to their parent’s apartment if they hold one of these two designations. Obviously getting your LSW is neither quick or cheap. However, getting your PCA is free, can be done online and in relatively short order!

Final Thought

It’s up to each of us to make things better. And it's okay to start small.

“There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”