One of the hardest decisions an adult child may face is the decision to place a parent in a memory care home – and the decision is made even more difficult when that parent has declared for years, in no uncertain terms, that they never want to go into a “nursing home.”
That was the situation Jennifer Carlin and her three sisters found themselves in as they considered a memory care home for their mother, matriarch Clare Carlin. It was becoming clear she could no longer could live alone in her cottage in Pine Run Retirement Community’s independent living neighborhood, The Village.
“Everything she did was always on her own timeframe,” Jennifer Carlin said recently. “When she made the move to the cottage at Pine Run, it was absolutely the right time to do it, and she was very happy there.”
Clare Carlin moved into The Village in 2017. Living at Pine Run in her retirement had been her goal since 1976 when she spotted new construction rising from a field on Ferry Road in Doylestown Township. The project that would become Pine Run Retirement Community was located a mere three miles from the Carlins’ farmhouse and 10-acre property on Callowhill Road.
“When Pine Run was being built, she always said that was where she was going to retire,” Jennifer recalled. “She’s a huge fan of Doylestown Hospital, and it was important to her to stay within that community. That was her goal, and so that’s what she did.”
That was how Clare Carlin lived, Jennifer stated. She set goals, charted a course toward them, and worked hard to achieve them. A military wife and mother, she raised six children – Jim, Coleen, Deborah, Keith, Melinda, and Jennifer – mostly on her own while her husband was on active duty, Jennifer said. After her husband, who had been a jet pilot in the U.S. Navy, passed away in 1987, Clare managed the 10-acre property on Callowhill Road on her own for the next 30 years.
When Clare decided to move into The Village, she sold the farmhouse and downsized her furniture and other belongings. She brought many of her favorite things to her Pine Run cottage, including her collection of antique clocks, Jennifer said, adding that Clare lived happily in her cottage in The Village for about three years.
Then signs of dementia began cropping up, as did health challenges. Clare had a couple of falls and issues with her heart. When she first started forgetting things, the family attributed the memory loss to normal aging. It seemed troubling but not dangerous – until the day an aide found Clare sitting at her table in her cottage with all of her medications spread out before her, rearranging them with no heed to proper dosages and timing. The family knew something had to be done, but hoped they could respect Clare’s wishes to remain in her cottage by hiring Pine Run Companion Services for more help with daily activities.
They arranged for additional Pine Run Companion Services to visit Clare in her cottage. Eventually, though, a particularly bad fall sent Clare to the hospital, where the signs of dementia became impossible to refute. So when Clare returned to Pine Run from the hospital, she went to The Garden, the secure memory care neighborhood in the Pine Run Health Center following her rehab. Once there, it became clear that she could not return to independent living.
“We didn’t tell her, at first, that she couldn’t go back to her cottage,” Jennifer said. “We gave it a week, and then we finally told her she wasn’t going home. She was very angry with us, so that was an extremely difficult couple of weeks.
“One key point in the experience was the collaboration and interaction with my sisters,” said Jennifer. “We love each other immensely, but for the first time as adults, we were truly tested as a team. Our mom didn’t want to be moved, and she expressed that to each of us individually.”
“There were some very intense and personal feelings and expectations as to how each of us expected this next chapter to pan out. We agreed to share and express our thoughts – the key being to remove emotions and focus on what was best for our mother, and ultimately what our mom wanted. There were different opinions. Each of us knew what was ‘best for mom’. It was really tough; there were tears and intense emotions and opinions amongst us, but we prevailed as a team. We are ‘Team Clare,’ but more importantly above all, we are family – sisters,” said Jennifer
“My advice to any family facing this decision is at the bottom line – communicate and understand each sibling’s opinions with passion but most importantly with respect; don’t lose your family because of the situation – work through it to determine what will work best for your parent and for your family,” Jennifer stated.
“We also relied on the expertise of the staff who work in The Garden. They are great to work with and they are astute at what they are doing. They kept assuring us, ‘She will come around,’ and she did. Within a few weeks, she was quite comfortable with the fact that she was there. Now, she doesn’t even remember her cottage,” continued Jennifer.
“The decision to move a parent or loved one into a memory care home is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking for families, spouses, and partners,” said Mary Beth Baringer, Administrator at The Garden at Pine Run. “We encourage families to visit The Garden and take an active role in finding the most appropriate care for a loved one. Seeing our residents living their best lives can be very uplifting. We also can provide many resources for families thinking about this decision – we encourage talking to another family, or our experienced team members. After moving in, families see and experience the loving care that we are able to provide and many say that both they and their loved one experience a better quality of life after a move. Caregiving takes place 24/7 here at The Garden and that is our expertise so that families can visit and enjoy their time together.”
Clare has settled into life in The Garden and is thriving. Her daily needs for grooming, dressing, meals, and medication management are met with professionalism and care. The staff paint Clare’s fingernails her favorite shade and help her dress in her favorite Talbots outfits. A robust program of activities keeps Clare engaged and as active as she wants to be, Jennifer said, noting that the staff and fellow residents have become a second family to Clare. And despite her memory loss, Clare still recognizes each of her children, Jennifer said.
The decision to move their mother into professional memory care home has been made easier by the compassionate care Clare has been shown at The Garden at Pine Run, Jennifer said.
“Mom never wanted to end up in a memory care home – she was adamant that she did not want to go into a nursing home – so that’s upsetting,” Jennifer said. “But Pine Run is definitely top notch and they have absolutely made a difficult situation much better. Coleen, Debbie, Melinda and I can sleep at night knowing that she’s being cared for at Pine Run, getting the best care that we could ever imagine from great people. That’s a great source of comfort for all of us.”