North Texas families adapt when it’s time to turn to senior housing

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Although we would like to stay where we are, it is often necessary to shift gears as we age.

Leaving the longtime family home. Downsizing in a smaller house. Moving to a seniors’ community. Transition to assisted living. Move in with family or invite family to move in.

Change is difficult but often necessary, especially since we physically cannot do all that we could do before. How do families deal with the different scenarios?

Amanpreet Randazzo, a psychologist from Southlake, often counsels families on this stage of life. She says family members often want to move their loved one to the next phase as soon as they see changes.

Randazzo says make sure the time is right. Sometimes, she says, it’s better “to give your loved ones a few more years where they are, especially if they’re thriving, and not let [family’s] their own anxiety clouds their judgment.

We spoke to several local seniors and their families to see how they experienced this time in their lives.

Annie Ruth Robertson’s five children gather around her as she celebrates her 95th birthday in 2021. From left, Mary Bowens, Donald Robertson, Freddie Robertson, Kimberly McKinney and Tony Robertson.

Stay in place with help

Annie Ruth Robertson, 95, of Dallas is the family matriarch. Her husband died in 2007. Today, her children take turns staying with her, allowing her to stay in the family home as she suffers from dementia.

The family began noticing changes after Robertson had hip replacement surgery in 2014. She lives in the Hamilton Park neighborhood of Dallas in a four-bedroom, one-story home. In 2015, she passed out and fell. After a visit to her GP, the children were told: “Your mother can no longer live on her own.

“We had to make a decision,” says his daughter Freddie Robertson, the oldest at 75. “So we got together and came up with a plan.” Brothers Donnie Robertson, 71, and Tony Robertson, 63, live in Garland, sister Mary Robertson Bowens, 73, and Freddie live in Oak Cliff, and sister Kimberly McKinney, 59, lives in Arlington.

“My sister Mary and I do the long-distance tours because our younger sister and brother are still working,” Freddie explains. She or Marie comes every other Sunday and stays until Thursday; they are relieved Thursday evening by one of the other three siblings for the weekend.

A certified practical nurse comes three days a week to tend to Robertson’s bathing and dressing needs. Freddie says his mother usually sleeps through the night, but Freddie and Mary have learned to sleep and listen at the same time.

“We move in, bring in food, cook food — basically, just set up camp,” says Freddie. She says her mother is conscious from time to time. “Sometimes she knows our names and other times she calls us by someone else’s name. It all depends on the day,” she says.

“There are times when Mom is angry, but other times she expresses her gratitude by saying to me, ‘This breakfast is so good!’ But she can also be a scammer. Sometimes we look terrible, but she’ll say, “You look so pretty today.” She makes us laugh.

Stay in place despite the miles

Anna Courtney, 67, of Grapevine, Zee Kidd, 63, of Weatherford and their six out-of-state siblings took turns visiting their aging parents, Zenovia and Harve Courtney in Michigan. They define themselves as the typical “sandwich generation”, caring for both children and parents.

Their father initially showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and was diagnosed at age 75. Courtney, who is a social worker, visits two to three times a year; Kidd, a teacher, visited at Christmas, Easter and in the summer. Courtney began managing bill payments, creating a trust and establishing a power of attorney.

As their father’s illness progressed, the siblings organized a three-ring binder containing all of the doctor’s numbers and medications for reference. The siblings made sure that their father, and later their mother, did not go to the doctor alone. Whoever accompanied them had to take notes.

“We wanted our parents to live their lives with dignity. …And we wanted them to live at home for as long as they could,” says Kidd.

Their father died in 2009 at age 84. Next, it was time to focus on their mother, who was also showing signs of dementia. She moved in with her son Bob and his wife, Sophia. “But by fourth year,” Courtney says, “Sophia and Bob needed the rest of the family to step in.”

Courtney started making monthly visits. Their mother, during her last five months, was bedridden. Their brother from Montana sent a DVD player, DVDs and headphones so she could listen to her favorite hymns and watch family videos.

“We knew mom was safe at home,” Kidd says. “We learned that there were things we could do to bring him joy, like music, which would improve his mood.”

“The most important thing,” says Courtney, “was the conversation. We tried to get someone to call and talk to mom every day.

Their mother died in 2020 at the age of 95.

Patti Griffith and her mother, Dovie Mouser, 93, talk about what they'll be ordering for lunch...
Patti Griffith and her mother, Dovie Mouser, 93, talk about what they’ll order for lunch at the Sam Johnson Recreation Center in Plano. Griffith recently moved her mother from a senior living apartment to an assisted living apartment. Griffith visits her mother twice a week and together they eat lunch and run errands.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

Switch to assisted living

Dovie Mouser had successfully transitioned from the longtime family home to a two-bedroom apartment in an independent seniors’ community in 2016. She sold her house and had to move out within a month. “It was a crazy time,” says her daughter Patti Griffith, who took part with her three siblings and completed the move in four weeks.

“She did well,” Griffith said. “There was a lot of activity, she crocheted hats for the homeless, she was very active. Then the pandemic hit.

The lack of social interaction during these quarantine times weighed heavily on her. “She started not eating anymore,” Griffith says. ” She has lost weight. We started noticing a mental decline. She was also hard of hearing but had stopped wearing her hearing aids.

In the summer of 2020, Griffith suggested assisted living, which would include meal service.

After Griffith’s husband, Keith, was diagnosed with cancer, she had to focus on him. During her treatments, including intense chemo and numerous hospital stays, Griffith received calls from the senior community letting her know that her mother needed more help.

Mouser has been in her new Waterford assisted living apartment in Plano since late January.

“Mom is in a safe place being taken care of,” Griffith said.

live apart

Walt and Dorothy Dempsey, married for over 40 years, were inseparable. She was an artist. He was a teacher. They sang together every Sunday in church. They also traveled the world.

During a trip abroad in 2015, Walt began to see signs of mental decline in his wife.

“She was one of the brightest people I’ve ever known. But now all the sharpness was gone,” he said.

In 2020, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

With the help of his daughter, psychologist Margaret Dempsey, he found Oxford Glen Memory Care in Grand Prairie. He visited her as often as possible, but with COVID-19 restrictions he could only see her twice a week for 20 minutes at a picnic table outside.

After the restrictions eased, Walt was able to see her daily in her bedroom, which Dorothy called “our second home.” During their visits, the 87-year-old said: ‘She wanted to lie on the bed together, hold hands and talk. These are our last best days together. I loved being with her like that, even though the topics discussed were imaginary things she wanted to talk about.

On her last day, 85-year-old Dorothy was struggling to breathe, but Walt went home thinking she would be better the next day. “She died 90 minutes after I left.”

Transitioning to a new normal as we age is not easy. But being able to do it with grace and joy is key.

As psychologist Randazzo says, “We can’t choose when we breathe our last, but we can choose to live until we breathe our last.”

Finding a new nest can be a rewarding family project.
Finding a new nest can be a rewarding family project.(Michael Hogue)
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