CLINTON — When Myrna Sippel moved into the Alverno Health Care Center in Clinton this summer, it wasn’t all new to her.
The 92-year-old from Thomson, Illinois, said that as she got older and became more prone to falling, she had asked her daughter to investigate local nursing homes, realizing that one day she would need longer-term care. One nasty tumble broke her hip, and her family brought her to The Alverno for a stint in the short-stay skilled nursing care floor.
She found the care she received at The Alverno “first rate,” and the decision to move there permanently became a no brainer.
“I had told my family years ago that if the time ever came I wanted to go to a nursing home,” she said.
Planning ahead was one of the best things she ever did.
With health care needs, finances, legal issues and family dynamics sometimes all swirling around together at once, it makes an important, meaningful decision like transitioning to a nursing home far from an easy one to make.
Jill Lemke, a social worker with Mercy Living Centers in Clinton, recommends looking for the signs of cognitive and physical health deterioration when considering that transition.
Signs include forgetfulness or confusion, difficulty keeping track of time, not taking medications properly, weight loss, mood changes, difficulty with balance, decline in personal hygiene and safety concerns like leaving the stove on.
The sooner one looks into making the transition the better.
“I believe in being proactive, so I would start by exploring different options,” Lemke said.
The care available to seniors is more varied than ever. Nursing homes have evolved to provide complex, long-term care for seniors, including memory care, as well as rehabilitation and skilled nursing care to those recovering from injury or illness prior to returning to their homes. A nursing home, however, may not be the best solution for everyone, at least not immediately.
Jerry Schroeder, who has worked in senior care for nearly 30 years and is currently a program specialist with the Alzheimer’s Association in Iowa, says people can stay in their homes a long time if there are other people in their lives who can compensate for their challenges.
“Maybe some are able to take care of themselves but might be enough at risk,” he said. “Or they might have a lot of challenges taking care of themselves but have a lot of people around them taking care of them.”
The point at which one moves from home to nursing home varies from person to person, Schroeder added.
Care providers are seeing more dementia generally because people are living longer. More than 5 million Americans (one-in-nine Americans older than 65) are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the Alzheimer’s Association reported in 2016.
The demand for memory care locally is increasing. Barb DeHaven, director of social services at The Alverno, said her memory care program is full with some on a waiting list for several months.
“I do think there’s a growing need, definitely,” DeHaven said.
The senior living industry has exploded in recent years. Monte Schwartz, a transition specialist with Quad Citiesbased LivWell Seniors LLC, which does work in Clinton, said demographics have driven the expansion of care.
“It’s almost an arms race,” he said about competing care providers. “They all upped their game.”
LivWell helps connect seniors and their families to resources in the community. Schwartz said there is no onesize- fits-all approach to finding the right care option.
“I truly believe each option is valid in and of itself,” he said. “It’s just matching the person with what’s right for them.”
Starting early is important.
“Some wait too long to even start exploring any of this,” Schwartz said. “You want your ducks in a row before a crisis sets in.”
Admitting the need for help isn’t easy for people as they get older. Often responsibility falls on family members to notice the signs.
Julie Haring saw that her mother-in-law Gladys Ricklefs, who lived in her Clinton home alone for nine years after her husband died, grew weak and tired from going to dialysis three times a week. But it was after Ricklefs suffered through a bout of chest pains one night and was later found to have had a heart attack that Haring realized her mother-in-law needed full-time care.
“It was too much at home,” Haring said. “I didn’t trust her driving even though she wanted to.”
Haring moved Ricklefs into the Alverno, which, at 103 years old, is the oldest organization in Clinton County dedicated to serving the elderly. Haring is the housekeeping supervisor at The Alverno, and she kept constant watch on Ricklefs, who stayed there six months before dying in August at age 83.
“Getting her in here was a big help,” Haring said. “She was in skilled care a little while. After she got here, she perked right up. Her quality of life got better. She was mingling. She went to exercise class and bingo. She loved her stay here.”
Coming to The Alverno has given Myrna Sippel peace of mind.
“I feel like I’m getting excellent care,” says Sippel, catching a few minutes on a recent Friday with friends before heading to lunch at the 132-bed facility on 13th Avenue North.
“Everything is taken care of. It’s a relief.”