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Case Study #1: The Fabric of My Family

Laurie Turner March 5, 2024

Written by my husband, David, about his experience with his family in crisis:

In our last post we introduced the concept of a housing plan and discussed some of the important life questions you need to ask yourself in order to prepare a housing plan.  In this post we want to look at our first case study to illustrate some of the do’s and don’ts of what makes a housing plan successful or not.  In this case it’s an example of how not planning can jeopardize your health, derail your wishes and the consequences the chaos due to lack of planning can have on a family; in this case my husband's family.

One day 22 years ago our phone rings and a doctor I’d never heard of informed me that my mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, had had a psychotic break, in part because of her condition not being managed or medicated properly.  She could only be released to a skilled memory care facility and he wanted to know what I wanted to do.  After reminding the doctor that I was in Pasadena, CA and my parents were in Boston I asked if he’d spoken with my sister, who lived nearby, or my brother who was living with my parents.  He had.  Both siblings insisted the conditions at home were fine, that mom was indeed getting proper care and he was to release my mother immediately so she could go home.  Knowing the home situation was unacceptable I agreed with the doctor and encouraged him not to release her if he had the legal authority to do so.  On his authority, Mom stayed in the psychiatric ward until we could sort things out.  Thus began the saga of finding my parents appropriate housing from 3,000 miles away.  What unfolded would ultimately destroy our sibling relationships.

My parents lived in our longtime family home overlooking a peaceful lake just outside of Boston.  On the surface they had everything they needed to successfully age in place, and did so for many years.  The house was single story, everything had been well maintained over the years, my sister lived nearby and my brother was living in the house with my parents.   My father had advanced Parkinson’s and mom had Alzheimer’s.  My brother, although living at home, was unemployed and dealing with mental health and other issues.   My sister, unwilling to upset my parents and afraid of my brothers erratic behavior, was hesitant in helping out.  As my parents conditions progressed, and they became less and less capable, the wheels started to come off the bus and the living situation became unsafe.  In typical stubborn new England fashion, my parents dug in their heals and refused to move.  They refused to even have the conversation.  As mom’s condition progressed, she became paranoid and refused to allow anyone other than family into the house, thus no cleaning help or home care assistants they so desperately needed.  

Determined to maintain their independence my father refused to give up driving long after it was time until he settled on what my siblings thought was an ingenious compromise.  Dad’s tremors from Parkinsons were too severe for him to drive but he was mentally capable and knew where he was going.  Mom could physically drive but because of her Alzheimer’s she didn’t know where she was going.  My father’s solution was for mom to drive and him to navigate.  Yes, take that in for a moment.  A solution that worked well in theory but in reality, mom would stop the car in the middle of the street and step out into traffic any time she saw someone she knew or just wanted to say hello to a pretty dog out for a walk. 

Unfortunately, my parents had absolutely no plans in place to deal with the changing conditions of their health. Given the slow progression of both conditions they had plenty of time to put plans in place over the years, but they refused to acknowledge the reality of their situations and never made plans for the inevitable future.  “We’ll be fine!”   No medical power of attorney existed.  No financial plan was in place.  Nobody was officially in charge if/when my parents became incapable.  There were also conflicting goals and priorities amongst my siblings which further prevented any clear plan from being developed.  My brother, having no other housing options, needed my parents to remain at home and not move to a skilled care facility because we would need to sell the house to fund the move and he would again be without a place to go.  My sister knew they would be better off in a skilled care facility but was too weary and afraid of upsetting my parents and brother and had given up leaving them to their fate.  Both were hostile toward me for agreeing with the doctor and forcing a change that was necessary for my parents but, for each sibling, for personal reasons, didn’t want.

Mom being locked in the psychiatric ward after her break forced us into the position of having to make decisions for my parents that they didn’t want us to make, but we had reached a point where there wasn’t any other option.  My wife and I flew to Boston the next day and urgently began looking for care facilities that would take them both at the last second.  We also began countless conversations with my siblings, banks, lawyers and financial advisors to put things in order and to see what they could afford.  

Fortunately, my sister realized the need to move my parents and was instrumental in securing placement in a wonderful facility willing and able to take them both – a very very difficult task as we learned because their ailments required vastly different care.   Mom absolutely blossomed.  In addition to receiving proper treatment and medication, she loved the companionship of the social programs.  She’d always been social and was terribly sad being isolated in the old house all those years.  It took a little while for Dad to settle in but he eventually found his routine and a “purpose” that made him feel useful and happy.

Unfortunately, the stress, uncertainty, conflicting objectives, urgency and absolute lack of planning forever ripped the fabric of my family apart.  Had there been a housing plan in place we would have been able to have those difficult discussions with the family, their care givers and their financial advisor to either get them moved much sooner, or at least had identified a care facility and made arrangements for their long-term care when the time ultimately came to move.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, we’re here to have these conversations with dignity and tact.  Contact us at (626) 483-5269 or at [email protected].  

Stay tuned for the rest of the series.

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