Earlier this year, Ruth celebrated her 97th birthday, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the perfect place: her own home. Located in a quiet Manitowoc neighborhood, the home, with its knotty-pine warmth, is filled with memories of a lifetime.
Yet staying at home may have only been a dream for Ruth, without the help of her loving family and Lakeland Care. Like so many older adults, Ruth had developed arthritis and congestive heart failure, with accompanying symptoms and concerns. Swollen legs. Achy joints, especially in her arms and fingers. Trouble getting to the bathroom in time. Decreased strength. Fear of falling. Interrupted sleep. Weight loss – in fact, Ruth was down to 77 pounds at one point.
For Ruth – who always loved sports, played the organ in church, raised a lively family of six with husband Henry and enjoyed hosting holiday celebrations – finding a way to stay safely at home was her heart’s desire.
So like they always have, Ruth’s family rallied around her. Her children took turns staying over each and every night, to ensure nearby assistance and a healthy breakfast in the morning. They shared responsibilities for grocery-shopping, picking up prescriptions, shoveling snow, doing yardwork, overseeing the household finances, and driving their mom to appointments.
“Even with all of us kids and our in-laws, we still needed help to help Mom live at home,” says daughter Sandy. “The days were the hardest – working, raising our children or just living hours away.
“We were searching for options,” says Sandy. “We were really at the point of asking mom to move in with one of us or go to a nursing home or assisted living. We were so worried about her safety home alone and her declining health.”
Then the search for help led Ruth and her family to the Lakeland Care District and its Family Care program. Now we feel like we have a real partner,” son Mike says. “Someone knowledgeable to help us figure out approaches, solve problems and find resources.”
And over time, with the support of her own nurse and care manager from Lakeland Care, Ruth has made changes that have renewed her life, renewed her happiness. As Ruth says with some glee, “You can teach an old dog new tricks – it’s just adjusting where adjustments must be made.”
Among the strategies, suggestions and solutions from Ruth’s care team:
- Wrapping her legs to control swelling, so it’s easier for Ruth to stand and walk;
- Arranging for a lift chair in her living room, so she doesn’t get trapped sitting when no one is with her;
- Scheduling mid-day visits from a care aide, so Ruth can rely on help with bathing, dressing and healthy lunches;
- Providing disposable adult underwear, so she doesn’t worry about frequent trips to the bathroom and can get better sleep;
- Supplying an emergency pendant to wear, so Ruth can summon help and even answer a phone call remotely, rather than hurry to the phone – and chance falling.
Ruth especially appreciates the weekday visits from her caregiver from Comfort Keepers, a home care agency in Lakeland Care’s provider network. “Even while she’s helping me, Laura gives me a lot of encouragement to do things on my own!”
Ruth sees direct improvements from Lakeland Care’s involvement. “Now with my legs wrapped and the swelling down, I get more exercise,” says Ruth. “Every day, I walk five loops around the first floor of my house.” With her weight gain and better ability to walk, Ruth also likes to keep up with her own housework. “I wash my clothes, fold them and put them away in the drawers,” she says. “My children reorganized the kitchen so the dishes are placed down below – that way I can unload the dishwasher without reaching overhead.”
And with her adult pull-ups, Ruth feels more confident sitting for a longer spell. “I’ve started playing the organ again,” she says, sitting down to demonstrate in the corner of her living room. This is a cherished activity for Ruth, since her father used to sell pianos in his general store – and gave every child a choice of piano or organ upon marriage.
Of course the family continues to pitch in to do so much for their mom. A family member still stays over every night, on a rotating calendar. (Mike’s hearty breakfast of cream of wheat cereal has been credited with adding many needed pounds to Ruth’s slender frame.)
“It’s real team work,” says daughter Sandy. “It’s a combination of what Lakeland Care is doing and what we’re doing. This is the best of all worlds, with all involved.
“We can call Lakeland Care at any time. The care team responds quickly – never more than half a day to hear back if we have concern or question. They are so flexible!”
Ruth, Sandy and Mike agree: “Lakeland Care has helped us as a family,” says Sandy. “Our lives are better and so much easier as a family. All together with support from Lakeland Care, we make decisions. We start at one level, and then know that there will be changes over time.”
For Ruth’s children, that means they “don’t have to worry about mom all the time.”
For Ruth, that means “I can stay in my own home!”