Caring for Mother
Life would have had a greater degree of normalcy if she had owned a long-term-care insurance policy.
Caring for Mother By Howard Berger, CLU, LUTCF
Editor’s Note: What this advisor went through as he cared for his mother who did not have long-term-care insurance demonstrates the need for this vital coverage. Share his story with your clients and you might persuade them to seriously consider obtaining LTCI.
Do you know me? You’d likely say no, but you do, more than you will ever realize.
I was until relatively recently a living breathing long-term-care-insurance (LTCI) policy. I was because I had to do what a policy should have been doing — help take care of my mother. The irony is that I am a seasoned financial advisor who knows better than to allow his mother to live without an LTCI policy. But I simply could not get her to even discuss the subject. In fact, one of my siblings volunteered to pay for the entire cost of the coverage, but she still wouldn’t allow the subject to be brought up. Her mother had suffered from Alzheimer’s and died in a nursing home, but she would still leave the room whenever I tried to bring the subject up.
Although Our Mom ran a tight ship as she raised four sons, she also encouraged us to try new things. She taught us independence, self-confidence and how to speak up for ourselves. Because she had a protected childhood, she wanted us to be able to do the things she was never allowed to do.
When Alzheimer’s struck her mother, a facility was the only choice at the time. Once per month, she would fly there to visit her. Not only would she see how she had deteriorated in just that one month, she would also see the "Coming Attractions," as she called them, by seeing other patients who were just a bit worse than her. Ending up in a facility became her worst nightmare.
She purchased a copy of the book, "Final Exit." This was her strategy. If a physician were to tell her that she had Alzheimer’s, she would consult the book and exit gracefully. But by the time the disease had reared its ugly head, she could no longer remember that she even owned the book.
When our father passed away, she started to consider the idea of perhaps one day moving into an assisted living center. Her niece, who happened to be the same age as she was, had moved into an extremely nice one. She once asked me to take her there to visit. When we left, as I was driving her home, she asked me to promise not to ever put her in a place like that. The look of fear on her face as she said those words was something I had never seen on her before in my entire life.
I took her hand. "Mom, I have the boys still living with me," I said. "We’d have to sell your apartment to get a bigger house. Would you be OK with that?"
She said: "That’s fine, as long as it keeps me out of a place like that or anything like it."
I promised her that I would do what I could to keep her out of a facility.
There it was — my word. Our dad always said, "Always keep your word. Sometimes in life, it may be the only thing you have."
Dealing with Alzheimer's
Nothing happened right away. Our Mom maintained her independence for quite some time, although there were changes here and there. She started repeating herself. Her "filters" of what she would say to someone gradually began to diminish. We had to take charge of her medications, her bills; she had to give up driving and agree to let someone come to the apartment each day to take care of her. At first, it was only for an hour each day to make sure that she had indeed taken her medications and to check on things. Then it increased to a few hours per day, to finally eight hours per day. Fortunately, the caregiver worked independently; so, her fees were reasonable. The two of them eventually became the best of friends.
It was also fortunate that by the time her physician said she could no longer live alone, I had become an empty nester. Our Mom was reluctant at first to have someone move in with her. But once it was explained to her that unless I moved in, the state would remove her and put her in a facility of its choosing, she ultimately agreed. "I think the den could make a great bedroom for you," she said.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that she liked the idea of having me there, and I had to admit that I did enjoy the time we spent together. The hard part was watching her decline. Our Mom had visited five out of seven continents in her life, would read the daily newspaper cover to cover with the exception of the sports section, and could read as many as five books each week.
Unfortunately, in addition to having Alzheimer’s disease, she had Macular Degeneration, which ultimately robbed her of her ability to read and even watch TV. Alzheimer’s also creates odd habits in its victims. We had to put a Baby Monitor in the kitchen and a lock on the refrigerator door because she had started taking food out and leaving it on the counters because she wanted it to be at room temperature.
The other odd habit many Alzheimer’s patients suffer from is "Sundowners Syndrome," which causes them to wander around during the night. For some, it is simply wandering around their homes, while others will go outside and start to wander the streets. In the beginning, our Mom wandered around just in the apartment for the most part. However, she would occasionally walk out into the building late at night. As a result, I had to put an alarm on the door.
The most difficult part of taking care of our Mom was dealing with the lack of support I received from my family. It was not that they were unwilling or were not interested; it was mainly a matter of logistics. I have three older siblings. Two live on the West Coast and although the other sibling and I resided in the same town, he was working on the East Coast and was home very seldom. I was very fortunate to have a girlfriend who was very willing to be a "homebody" with me practically every weekend.
Family in and of itself is also a difficult issue, especially if everyone is spread out all over the place. Along with being a financial advisor for over 38 years, I am an educator who has taught numerous classes on LTC and Elder Care. However, this is no match for something known as "Distance Guilt." This often happens when the child of an Alzheimer’s patient hasn’t seen his parent for some time and starts feeling as if he has done either nothing or not enough. He then feels the need to compensate or even overcompensates, adopts a "Take Charge" attitude, and begins giving orders and rallying the troops.
This will strain relationships in ways people never thought possible. For me, the first difficulty in dealing with the "Distance Guilt" that everyone was feeling was addressing their opposition to the idea of my moving in with mother. This was in spite of the fact that two physicians had endorsed the idea.
I was told I should not move in with our Mom because:
- I was not a professional.
- I was an untrained male.
- What would happen if I were to see her naked?
- What would I do if had to change her diapers?
- I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was getting into.
- She probably wouldn’t appreciate the idea of having strangers around.
- I wouldn’t keep the apartment clean enough.
While it was true that I was not a professional, the more than 70 percent of other family members who are caring for their parents are also not professionals. And though it was also true that I was an "untrained male," I learned very quickly. There were plenty of times when I had helped our Mom get dressed or undressed. I had helped her shower on many occasions and even cleaned her up on occasions when going to the bathroom ended up being on the messy side. While certainly not the highlight of either of our day, it was handled with grace, love and respect. How else should I have handled it, and why should our Mom have expected anything less from someone she raised? If our Mom had reached a stage at which she had lost complete control of her bladder and bowels, nothing would have changed, even though it would have been a greater challenge than when I did those tasks for my children.
So, after a year of trepidation and finally, because our Mom could no longer be left alone, I moved in. As I mentioned earlier, after a few days, our Mom discovered she liked having me around. Most of my siblings soon discovered that I did know what I was doing and what I was getting myself into.
On Sept. 10, 2016, our Mom passed away peacefully in her sleep, in her own bed, in her own home, on her own terms. My promise had been kept. Why did I do it? Because I said I would.
Was it easy? No, it wasn’t. Do I regret it? Absolutely not for a single second. Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat. However, had our mother not been so stubborn about not considering an LTCI policy, I still could have moved in with her, but I would have received a lot more help than I did. I could have been able to have a caregiver in the evenings as well, which would have allowed me to work more hours when I needed to, and not miss many family functions I would have liked to attend. Life would have had a greater degree of normalcy if she had owned an LTCI policy.
When one achieves the age of 65, the odds of their using the benefits of an LTCI policy rise to 70%. At the beginning of this article, I asked you if you knew me. So now that I have shared my story with you, do you? Do you know someone just like me? Would you be willing to walk in my shoes? Do you still think you don’t need an LTCI policy?
Howard R. Berger, CLU, LUTCF, is known for his "Solutions-Based Thinking" approach. He brings a sound, practical perspective to helping his clients achieve their financial goals. Since 1980, he has been an advocate for clients and their goals, needs and dreams. He is a member of the adjunct faculty of The American College, teaching industry-related courses to fellow professionals, as well as providing informational seminars on a wide range of helpful topics to the general public.
This article appeared in Advisor Today.