“You’re not alone,” is a message that Becki Johnson wants others to hear — those who are considering helping a parent or loved one with dementia transition to memory care. Recently her dad, Ron Lund, who lives with Alzheimer’s Disease, moved from an assisted living apartment to a memory care apartment at Orchard Path in Apple Valley, MN. Becki tells their story to Presbyterian Homes & Services and shares advice for families.
Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS): Tell us about the day your dad, Ron, moved from assisted living to memory care at Orchard Path.
Becki Johnson (BJ): When I came to tell my dad that it was moving day, he did not take the news well at all. He was mad, Mad, MAD! There was quite a bit of yelling and finger shaking in my face. I get it, change is hard, especially when you have Alzheimer’s. It stinks.
He took an angry walk to the front desk. Dad was greeted by my first blessings: Fred and Kyle, staff who are fabulous [clinical administrator and human resources manager, respectively]. And they said, “Okay! How about let’s take him for a guys’ day out on the town!” I met my dad as they were leaving, and he gave me a huge hug and was so excited he was going out. So, they just went for a car ride and drove him to Bloomington where he found his childhood home. Then they drove him to a print shop where he used to work. Then they bought him lunch! God bless those guys…
Meanwhile, my moving team from Gentle Transitions blessed me by hustling and getting his room completely moved and looking good! When Dad came back from his adventure, they brought him to The Arbor, and he was a different man. Loves his new location. He smiled and cried as he hugged me tightly and thanked everyone for getting him here. He said, “You’re doing this for me?!”
At the beginning of our morning, I thought, “Oh my goodness, this is not working well at all. Then Fred and Kyle said, “What are we gonna do?” And that’s what they decided to do. And it was awesome [laughs]. They were lifesavers.
PHS: And how are things going today?
BJ: The funny thing is we just had to make that three-floor move — that was the whole thing. He’s in the same place, so he has familiar people and everything. About six people he’s familiar with have moved to The Arbor as well. He sees their faces and they’re all at the same stage of Alzheimer’s. That made it easier as well. And the staff know and love him there, so that’s good.
I call every day, so he tells everybody I’m there because he hears me every day which makes me feel less guilt. It made me feel better to know that he thinks I’m there every day [laughs]. I’ve signed up to be an essential caregiver and just got my clearing to go in.
PHS: You’ve mentioned feeling guilt before the move. What was that like?
BJ: Well, it’s a scary time that nobody is ready for and, as the kid, I feel overwhelming guilt. Because it’s now my job to be the parent of my parents. I ask myself, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I moving him to the right place, right now?” You want to do your best for your parents, but you also want to be obedient to your parents even though you’re in your 50s or 60s.
So, when Kyle and Fred took my dad for those two hours, during moving day, it lifted such a weight from me. I know the staff are taking great care of my dad. The people who take care of seniors need to know how important they are. Because it is a hard job … people who are caring for your loved ones.
PHS: What have you discovered since?
BJ: My dad and I never got a long very well. We fought a lot. Our relationship — my dad and me — is the best it’s ever been. At this point, he’s constantly thanking me, saying, “I’m so happy you came to see me,” and “Oh, thank you so much for calling.” Totally different. I think there’s a reason to all that has happened. I’ve also learned to appreciate the joy my dad gets. Even though he can’t remember it, I can remember his joy in the moment.
PHS: What advice do you have for others who are on this journey with their loved ones?
BJ: My story is part of a bigger story. A lot of people have been on this journey with me. I have found that during this journey of caring for my parents I’m not alone. Many of my friends and some acquaintances I’ve met along the way are going down this path as well. Through my whole journey the past three years, I had to choose to see God’s blessings in this. Now, the information I have gathered I share with others who are scared and overwhelmed.
You have to put aside [your fears] and see that this is a good thing, because they’re not safe in their home. What I tell people is, “You need to figure out what is going to be safe for your mom and dad. They may be mad at you and they may make you feel bad but, in the end, I think they know you’re trying to do the right, loving thing.”
(Pictured right: Ron goes "fishing" at Orchard Path beside Kandi Kindle, Life Enrichment Assistant.)
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