Aging Gracefully… As a Team
Like many retired couples, Walter and Julia Jennings were aging gracefully. After 55 years of marriage, three grown daughters and nine grandchildren, they had downsized from a large home in Basking Ridge to a two-story townhouse in Pluckemin. They enjoyed traveling, bridge and, most of all, their independence. But, gradually, their life together started to change.
Julia, 84, began to have memory lapses, which affected her bridge game. Her purposeful stride eventually became a tentative shuffle and the townhouse stairs were soon difficult to navigate. Although Walter had open heart surgery twice, along with several stent procedures, he happily assumed the role of caregiver and proudly took over the household duties.
“I surprised myself with how much I could manage,” commented 82-year-old Walter. “I did the cooking and laundry, took care of Julia and made sure we got out of the house every day.”
His confidence waned, however, after Julia had a few falls.
“I was concerned that she would fall again and that I wouldn’t be able to help her up,” said Walter.
Their daughters, Carol, Cindy and Colleen, grew concerned, too. They wanted their parents to enjoy their remaining years together in a pleasant safe environment without sacrificing their independence.
“We discussed the possibility of an assisted living facility with mom and dad, but mom was resistant,” said Carol, a surgical nurse manager at Overlook. “She was, understandably, upset at the prospect of leaving her home.”
So Carol turned to Dr. Michele Elkins, a noted geriatrician and medical director of Overlook’s Geriatric Services, for guidance. With over 20 years of experience in geriatrics and long-term care, Dr. Elkins is especially attuned to the physical, emotional and psychosocial needs of seniors. She adjusted Julia’s medication to ensure it was compatible with other prescription drugs Julia was taking, and she worked with the Jennings family to find a solution to their concerns. Dr. Elkins also referred Julia to Dr. Roger Kurlan, medical director of The Movement Disorders Program at Atlantic Neuroscience Institute at Overlook, who diagnosed Julia with age-related dementia.
“Dr. Kurlan prescribed medication to help my mother’s mobility, and Dr. Elkins prescribed medication to slow the progression of the dementia,” commented Carol. “Then, she gently and effectively broached the subject of assisted living with my parents.”
Eighteen months later, Walter and Julia moved into a one-bedroom apartment at The Chelsea, an assisted living facility in Warren. They brought their furniture, their car, and their independence. Dr. Elkins and geriatric nurse practitioners from Overlook visit the couple and others like them, regularly, to manage their primary care. When Walter went into the hospital recently for a cardiac procedure, his daughters had peace of mind knowing that their mother was also receiving the care she needed.
But, best of all, Walter and Julia are together…still aging gracefully.
“We’ve always been a team and we’re going to stay a team,” says Walter.
Fast Fact: The likelihood of developing dementia or the most common type of dementia — Alzheimer’s disease — increases with age. There is no cure for dementia, but medications, therapy and proper care can help sustain a positive quality of life.