Ask the Nurse | Caring for a Parent

When it's your Mom, everything changes

by Christine Hammerlund, President of Assured Healthcare and "Mother"

You can become accustomed to the professional detachment of nursing. I've spent most of my adult life in that role and finding just the right balance among intellect, knowledge and emotion is one of the toughest hidden “jobs” of health care.

Good people care. You cannot hide from being human. But nursing means being smart in choices. Being smart and attentive for your patient is a never- ceasing quest. Medicine might be a science, but healing is an art.  

Meet Virginia, one of our patients and mother of Assured Healthcare Staffing owner Chris Hammerlund.

Meet Virginia, one of our patients and mother of Assured Healthcare Staffing owner Chris Hammerlund.

A good nurse must listen to many voices inside her head, each asking for attention and validation. But I thought I had mastered the art of that heart/smart balance until I confronted the future for my Mom.

When it's Mom, everything changes, and even a nurse cannot shield herself from deep fears and concerns. Even a good nurse can be fooled by signs she does not see.

So, this is the first of four part series about me and my Mom. This will be a shared experience for us - you and I.  You see, the time had come to make some decisions about Mom's day-to-day health, and we all experience this, ready or not.

I can tell you right at the beginning that sharing the burdens of life can be a difficult task. But maybe you will see your life - your Mom or Dad - in this picture.  Maybe it will help to know you are not alone. It did for me.

First, Mom is a wonderful person. I won't tell you her age because it would be embarrassing to her, but let's just say she's old enough to remember runningboards on cars and phonographs that sped around the record turntable at 78 revolutions per minute. She is a proud person and independent. And smart.

But these are difficult times for her and for me.

I will have to care for her now. That much is certain. I don't know how much I had focused on that likelihood in other years, but when the time comes, there is no escape from that fact if you care.

My Mother has a few issues that make her care very challenging. She has macular degeneration (reduced eyesight), hearing loss, very unsteady gait and moderate dementia.

The changes that age can bring don't happen in one day. It's often a slow, steady progression. I did not see that slide at first.

When Mom was still at her home living alone, she was able to hold it together through a phone conversation, covering up her dementia and leading me to believe she was just forgetful.  

She then had a very serious fall, which landed her in the hospital for a week and drove my decision to have her move into my home. What I have found since she began living with me is how limited her ability is to function without help.  

I would suggest to others that have the responsibility of taking care of elderly and infirm parents or loved ones, first trust your gut.

And second, bring in a health care professional.  

By “trust your gut,” I mean that when you think something is wrong, it probably is worse than you think.  Second, either get in touch with the Doctor or have a nursing assessment done. Nothing is as useful as an independent evaluation of how well the senior performs activities of daily living and exercises their cognitive awareness. A doctor or independent nursecan see what you cannot.

The first job is to realistically determine whether it's safe for them to continue living alone. You have to become smarter about Mom. I did. It was the first lesson I had to learn.

As part of my business, I hire and manage home health care nurses all the time. I'm doing that now. If anything, the experiences with Mom have helped me see what those nurses need to know.

Next month, part 2 next: How did we wind up here?


Celebrate American Heart Month

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.

The good news? Heart disease can often be prevented when people make healthy choices and manage their health conditions.

Communities, health professionals, and families can work together to create opportunities for people to make healthier choices.

Make a difference in your community: Spread the word about strategies for preventing heart disease and encourage people to live heart healthy lives.

How can American Heart Month make a difference?

We can use this month to raise awareness about heart disease and how people can prevent it — both at home and in the community.

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Encourage families to make small changes, like using spices to season their food instead of salt.
  • Motivate teachers and administrators to make physical activity a part of the school day. This can help students start good habits early.
  •  Ask doctors and nurses to be leaders in their communities by speaking out about ways to prevent heart disease.