Avita, what my mother called home
Diane Atwood shares her journey with Dementia and what led her and her family to Avita of Stroudwater.
Like most of us, my mother, who passed away in 2016, wanted to stay in her own home. Even after my father died a few years before. And it was a big house — the one in which they raised most of their eight children. (My sister and I had moved out by the time my parents bought the house.) Instead, Mom lived the last two years of her life at Avita of Stroudwater in Westbrook, Maine. It all began after my father’s death.
When we asked how she was doing, she'd always tell us she was fine, but we began to notice that she couldn't keep up with her bills and would write little reminders to herself on scraps of paper and backs of envelopes. Her eating habits changed. She used to love steamed vegetables but was living on chicken and rice soup with a can of green beans thrown in. And sometimes all she ate was chocolate — mostly Kit Kat bars. Gradually, she couldn't remember if she'd eaten anything at all. Three of my sisters and I live in Maine. We started making more frequent visits and often spent the night. We also hired caregivers to help out, first for a few hours a week, then every day.
For a couple of years, my youngest sister and her husband lived upstairs, which was set up as a separate living space. When it was no longer possible for them to stay, the caregivers came more often and stayed longer hours. Another sister took a three month leave of absence from her job in Florida and moved in. I prayed she’d realize how much she missed Maine winters and decide to stay. But she needed to get back to her job and her own family, and so with great reluctance, went back home.
Once again, we had to turn to outside caregivers for help. And when it became clear that my mother should never be alone, my Maine sisters and I rotated night shifts. We all had jobs, families, our own homes, and other responsibilities, so it took its toll. We were also filled with anxiety. We'd made a promise to do whatever possible to keep mom at home but it just wasn't working anymore.
I took her to see her doctor and he agreed that she wasn't safe at home anymore. Together, my seven siblings and I decided it was time to look for an appropriate memory care community. We investigated several and decided on one right in her own hometown.
Avita of Stroudwater. We liked the layout of the common space. It was large and open and inviting. There was plenty of room for eating, doing crafts, games, socializing, whatever. It had a nice living room with several comfortable couches and a flat screen TV. A small sunroom and a large beautiful garden. All clean and secure. We didn't see a thing we didn't like. The one thing that stood out above all was that every single associate we encountered on our visit spoke to us. Looked at us and smiled and said hello. Every single one. It didn't happen at any of the other places we visited. In some, we felt invisible. Last, but not least, we talked to other families and decided that Avita was the best choice.
Getting my mother there was a challenge. She didn't want to go, but we explained that her doctor was concerned about her safety and that we should at least give it a try. For several days, she was angry and would ask over and over how long she had to stay and who put her there. But one day, I think about 10 days in, she told me that it wasn't such a bad place. She wasn't unhappy there. I asked her what she liked about it and she said she had her own private space but could go wherever she wanted and the people were nice. And then, I asked her the most important question of all — “Well, what do you think, do you want to stay at Avita?” She said she thought it would be a good idea.
And so, the decision became hers and it turned out to be the right decision. A decision that gave us peace of mind because she was safe and she was happy. She even went to her own church every week, where she’d run into relatives and friends she'd known for years. Although she didn’t always remember who they were, many would report back to me, "I saw your mother at church last week. She looks great!"
A few weeks after her 90th birthday, my mother, Beverly Swett, passed away. We are so grateful that she spent her final years in such a caring, secure environment. It could also be an indulgent environment! Sometimes at night she'd get a hankering for a dish of chocolate ice cream. Someone was always there to help satisfy her sweet tooth and also give her a smile or a hug. What more could any of us ask for?
Contributed by Diane Atwood, Maine native, health and wellness writer and creator of the blog, Catching Health. With years of experience in both the medical field and the reporting industry, Diane provides a unique and relatable perspective to everyday health and wellness topics.