Wellness Check

One Woman’s Story – Finding Care for her Elderly Parents

Jun 2022 | By Catherine Daley

Karin Welsh is a realtor in Uxbridge, Ontario. In 2003, she was working full time, and had custody of her three children, ages eight, 13 and 19. In that same year, Welsh’s mother had an ischemic stroke at the age of 69. The right side of her body was paralyzed and she was unable to speak. “We knew she was trapped inside her body without the ability to communicate easily,” says Welsh. “She could not use a computer, nor could she write. We learned to play the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question game until we figured out what she wanted.”

Welsh’s mother also suffered from tachycardia, which began at the age of 18 when she fell off a horse. Her heart would race for hours (sometimes days). Eating small, regular meals helped to reduce the risk of her heart racing, but after the stroke she couldn’t communicate what types of food that she could tolerate, so someone had to be with her. “My father stopped working, and my work suffered too.”

After being placed in long-term care, the family continued to visit her twice a day. She received physiotherapy, but there were downsides, as well. It was decided that Welsh’s father would hire a live-in nanny to cook, clean and care for his wife. This arrangement worked well for a few years, but it took its toll. Her parents were devoted to each other, and the shift in their relationship resulted in her father’s apathetic decline. He no longer
cared about his own well-being.

The New Setup

In 2009, Welsh decided to reconfigure her house. She added an addition above the garage that included an open-concept living and dining area, as well the four bedrooms for her and her children. The main floor was reconfigured to accommodate her parents. “I thought it would be great to have my parents living with us so that my kids could engage with them, I could help with my mom, and my dad could help with my kids,” says Welsh. “But that didn’t happen.”

A few weeks before the move, Welsh’s father suffered a serious heart attack. He recovered, but was very weak. Moving day was hell, according to Welsh. There was a mix-up with her mother’s lift. One mover hurt himself, and she ended up in the hospital with him, while her aunt and uncle were waiting to discharge her father. “I felt like I was living in a permanent state of disaster.”

Another nanny was required, but when she wasn’t there on evenings and weekends, they were only allotted 14 hours of community care support services each week, for both of her parents.

Welsh’s brother flew in from Germany, and helped to set up their parent’s new living quarters. He installed a buzzer by their mother’s bed, so that she could ring upstairs. They also got an alarm system that went directly to 911, if there was no response. Since neither of her parents could speak on the phone, there were a few times when she came home to an ambulance in her driveway.

One weekend, when there wasn’t a PSW (Personal Support Worker), Welsh’s mother appeared to be having another stroke. Had her mother been administered the correct drug in 2003 it may have helped to reverse some of the damage. There were only three hospitals in Ontario that carried the medication, and Sunnybrook was one of them. She packed up her parents, wheeled her mother into the hospital, registered her, grabbed another wheelchair and went back out to get her father, wheeled him in, and then went back out to park and pay for parking. “I then went back in the hospital to find my parents,” says Welsh. “Whom I felt like I’d just abandoned.”

The Ups and Downs of Life

While Welsh admits to challenges, she is very grateful for the living arrangement that she came up with. For a period of time, with support and a four-pronged walking stick, her mother could walk around the dining table multiple times. “There were so many great people in our lives – dedicated PSW’s that became friends, nannies that became more like family, and people who were genuinely interested in our well-being,” says Welsh. “The walls were beaming with good energy.”

Inevitably the time came when their lifestyle was no longer sustainable. It was imperative that her parents stayed together, but their particular needs didn’t qualify them for the same type of residence. After grudgingly being accepted for a retirement home in Port Perry, the experience went from bad to worse. Her mother was sent back to the hospital, after being told that she was below the threshold of capability for the home.

Ten years after her mother’s initial stroke, Welsh’s daughter and son-in-law were married on the anniversary date of her parent’s wedding. “My brother took my mom out
of the hospital, my dad from the retirement home, and we got our nanny back to help us out for the day,” says Welsh. “Our family was together, celebrating love and the continuation of life. It was truly a magnificent day.”

In the meantime, Welsh had put her parents on a waiting list for a home in Beaverton, where they could live together. Her mother passed away six weeks after the wedding, and her father lived for six months at the home in Beaverton before he died in 2016.

Five things that Welsh learned along the way

  • Things never return to normal. You learn to deal with, and respond to, catastrophe. You then reach a new plateau until the next downward slide happens.
  • Even in the nicest of homes, don’t expect your parents to be happy. They want their old life back.
  • No matter what you do, you’re going to feel guilty about 20 things that you didn’t do. Do take this on – you’re not God.
  • You can’t change, or go against, what is. Make the best of every step along the way.
  • Take time for yourself.