A Tale of Two Families

Our story begins with two loving families growing up under different circumstances. It could be characterized as Aesop’s Fable “Country Mouse and City Mouse”, as their environmental circumstances led to opposite opportunities of care when dementia struck. I have learned that estate planning assistance makes all the difference in your care.

Robert Simpson (middle) standing with his daughters around him.

Robert Simpson is an 83-year-old man who grew up in Arkansas’s farm country and worked many jobs to make ends meet for the family, a true country boy. He did not initially finish high school, but later went back and received his GED. He married Winna Mae, and work brought them to California. They had three lovely daughters. His work ranged from picking crops to driving large trucks during road construction. 

He had a heart attack when he was in his early 50’s, and the doctor said he could take early medical retirement. He petitioned for Social Security benefits and never re-entered the job market. Despite his life insurance being attached to his job, he was unaware that he needed to get a new policy after retirement.

At the urging of my wife, Teresa, Robert’s eldest daughter, the family moved to Anchorage in the summer of 2002, so that we could assist with the raising of their adopted grandson and support them in their later years. Robert lives off Social Security and Mae’s pension. She passed in 2012. 

It was Robert’s understanding that Social Security would provide him a place to live and care if he were to need it. This understanding came from the memory that his mom and dad both were placed in nursing homes in their final years, and the state government covered it.

Now Robert has dementia. He lives in a condo by himself. He can no longer drive. He still receives Social Security and Mae’s pension, but that income exceeds the Medicaid minimum to receive benefits. He is reliant upon our family for his care. 

His legs are failing him, so he is in an electric wheelchair, and incontinence is an issue.  Remembering to take his meds and eat are also problems. Teresa has set up cameras around the condo to maintain an easy visual if we need to. His Life Alert pendant is so helpful when he has fallen and does not have the strength to get up. 

Robert feels like a prisoner in his own home. He can get outside with his chair but does not have the self-confidence to get very far from the bathroom.

As dementia progresses, Teresa is there every morning and evening to ensure that the dog is fed and has been let out, and that Robert is save, has eaten and has taken his medication. Teresa handles all the bills and shopping for him. The rest of our family, including our adult children Jessamy and Kagen, also assist with his care. They are on call when we need assistance picking Robert up off the floor. 

We have assembled handicap-accessible ramps and installed grab bars. Robert’s two younger daughters live out of state and do not currently have the means to assist.

Teresa and I are beside ourselves as to the next move. Robert will not be able to stay by himself much longer. The constant worry that he will fall, or not eat, or not take care of himself is extremely stressful for the whole family. We can’t afford to place him in assisted living. 

We have considered moving him to our house, but he would be stuck on one floor or the other since we have the typical two-floor split entry. His ability to transfer to a stairlift is very limited. 

And selling his condo is not a great option. To sell, we would have to invest funds to make it marketable.  What we can make from the sale would determine how many months of assisted living we can afford. The burden of care is completely on the family.

Robert keeps asking me if this is what we planned when we moved them to Alaska. I keep reminding him “No, this is not what I envisioned, but we do it because he is family. That is what families do.”

Virginia Silver is an 86-year-old widow that grew up in southern California, a city girl. There she met my father, Stuart Silver. He joined the Air Force Reserve and spent over 20 years serving his country. Continue Reading…