By Susan Thaxton
It was 3:00 in the afternoon when the call came in. The caller asked me to meet a police officer at a private residence where I would be introduced to Jim.
It seems that 85-year-old Jim and his wife, 89-year-old Sarah, were well known to the police department. Sarah had advancing dementia and Jim was caring for her in their long-time home. Sarah enjoyed taking walks in the neighborhood but sometimes she got lost. That’s when the police would pick her up and give her a ride to the house. This had been going on for almost two years.
Then, one day, Sarah fell while she was out walking and she couldn’t get up. When they took her home and talked with Jim, it became apparent that Jim was no longer able to care for Sarah’s needs. The house had become cluttered, food was spoiling in the kitchen and it looked like neither of them had bathed in a while. Adult Protective Services was called in—again. They had been called to the house before and tried to encourage Jim to get some help but Jim refused. This time, they felt it was time for Sarah to move into a safer environment and they called us to help find a new home for her.
Officer Bell introduced me to Jim. I spent a couple of hours talking with him about his options and finally persuaded him to simply consider taking a look at a couple of senior homes in the area. I told him he wouldn’t have to make any decisions just yet, but why not at least see what they looked like? What was the harm in that? As it turned out, they lived just down the street from an assisted living community that also provided dementia care. I arranged for a professional caregiver to come to the home to stay with Sarah and took Jim to see the community.
After taking a tour, Jim looked like a kid in a candy store. He was so excited to find a place where Sarah could be cared for that he wanted to move her right away! He was wrestling with some guilt but he finally admitted that he knew it was getting too hard for him to keep her at home. And he worried about what would happen to her if something happened to him.
I wish you could have seen Jim when he was with Sarah. They had been married for 60 years and it was clear that he adored her. They never had any children so his attention was always devoted to her. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges he faced in coming to his decision was how much he would miss her when she was no longer in the house.
Sarah moved on to the dementia floor of the assisted living community two weeks later. It’s been several months now, and Jim still goes to have lunch with her every day. I’ve tried to talk him into moving into the community so he could be closer to her and so he could stop worrying about the house, but he continues to tell me, “They’ll just have to drag me out feet first.”
It took a lot of courage for Jim to face his own fears—about not having Sarah around and about letting her down—but in the end, he knew he made the right decision. He says he’s sleeping better at night, knowing that Sarah is well cared for and knowing that she’s just down the street so he can visit any time.