My mother has been associated with Winter Growth/Montgomery Center since the summer of 2006, first as a day program attendee for 18 months and, then, as a resident since January 2008. With very few exceptions, she has been happy and at home there from the beginning.
It’s very hard to consider placing an elderly loved one, and our own vision can be clouded with emotions, causing us to sometimes consider our own needs and desires above those of our parent. Since Mom’s move to Winter Growth nearly six years ago, I’ve learned a few things about the process.
It’s important to honestly assess your parent’s (or other loved one’s) personality, current needs, and what would make them happy. Take yourself out of the equation, unless your dad wants to live under a bridge or something. My mom has always been a very sociable person and enjoyed membership in many groups, clubs and associations. She now has dementia, and it’s difficult for her to initiate and retain the memory of conversations/relationships, so she benefits from the structure of organized group activities. Winter Growth has been a nice fit for Mom because of its wonderful day program, with activities ranging from musical guest performers and dancing, manicure days, exercise programs, word games, crafts, religious services (for those interested), parties, etc. Her cognitive abilities are impaired, so this level of mental activity is gratifying for her. I always like to spy on her for a few minutes and watch her participate during these times, before I make my presence known and take her for lunch and a drive.
Do the best you can to anticipate your parent’s future needs. For me, Mom’s dementia diagnosis clarified things a bit. She definitely entered Winter Growth functioning at a higher level, but her reading skills and vision have deteriorated, she no longer crochets her famous dishcloths and can sometimes forget who she’s talking to on the phone or not recognize family members. She needs more prodding and guidance when getting around. This process will unfold for her, regardless of the environment. Thankfully, she is still upright and using a walker. As a small facility, with about 15 bedrooms or so, it’s easier for Mom to get around, both physically and memory-wise, at Winter Growth. Once, we were offered a tour of the facility at Mom’s memory assessment clinic, and I was dismayed as I imagined Mom trying to navigate its miles of corridors. For Mom, Winter Growth’s modest size has become a plus.
While first impressions of any facility are somewhat important, they are not nearly the whole story. When we were looking around, we visited a few places that had tastefully-decorated, shiny-floored lobbies, but I also noticed the few, solitary residents gazing out of the windows with no one to talk to. Some of these places were rather tomb-like—cavernous, quiet and still. Winter Growth is an aging facility, but its profusion of colorful bulletin boards, plants and flowers, central courtyard, buzzing activity and cheerful staff (some of whom have been there longer than my mother—an important observation, to me) outweigh the facility’s physical shortcomings, as compared to other, newer facilities.
At Winter Growth, my mother is engaged as much as she possibly can be, she feels comfortable because of the place’s home-like qualities and familiar decor, and she is as safe and well-looked after as is possible for any frail person who is still mobile. She frequently mentions her delight at having her own room, with all of her own things surrounding her, rather than having to share a bedroom. She doesn’t seem at all troubled by sharing a bathroom, either, especially as there is one adjoining her bedroom, just outside the door!
Winter Growth meets and exceeds my mother’s needs, given her physical and mental condition. She seems happy and emotionally and psychologically buoyed there. That’s all that really matters.