“I have stopped waiting to die and I am really living again. I am looking forward to my next birthday.”
Robert is a veteran of the Army, living in the San Francisco Bay area. When Senior Helpers’ care manager, Susan Leport, first visited Robert, he was on hospice because of an inoperable heart condition and on oxygen 24/7. He was thin, pale, had no appetite, and recently had a knee replacement. As a result, he barely left the couch during the day. Since Robert’s wife passed away, his son, who lives nearby, was assisting Robert with almost all his care needs. His son was stretched thin between his family and Robert’s care and was concerned about falls because of Robert’s weakness and poor mobility.
Once an active man who liked to be outdoors fishing and working in his garden, Robert spent all his time watching TV and no longer went outside. Robert now felt that he had only a few months left to live and was waiting to die. Susan knew that improving Robert’s quality of life, even if for a short time, would make a world of difference.
Part of Susan’s initial meeting with Robert and his son included an in-depth analysis of his daily life and surroundings. She used LIFE Profile, a detailed assessment tool that identifies hidden factors to help reduce the risk of falls and hospitalizations; it was developed using over 20 years of research on why seniors end up in the hospital. For most clients, LIFE Profile reveals and addresses many safety hazards that have gone unnoticed in the home. For Robert, his connection with the VA provided many benefits, including the DME and other mobility tools needed to provide a safe environment. The area of concern that LIFE Profile highlighted in this case was Robert’s Quality of Life and the Burden of Care for his son.
Robert is fortunately eligible to receive 28 hours of home care through his veterans’ benefits, even though it is much less than what he really needed. Even with this allotment of care hours, Robert was resistant to having someone in his home, so he only agreed to accept four hours a week to start, and he only wanted a male caregiver. With limited hours per week, Susan knew it was imperative to make the most of the time they had with Robert, and she knew just the right caregiver. She assigned Greg to begin visiting Robert each week, with a focus on nutrition and companionship.
Even though Robert was receiving prepared food from Meals on Wheels and his family, he was still barely eating. Because he was weak and pale, nutrition was a top priority. Many times, unwell people say they are not hungry and do not bother to make a meal; however, if a family member or care provider offers them a warm meal, often seeing and smelling the food can trigger their appetite.
Greg was the perfect choice for this—he used to own a restaurant and is excellent at putting together a nutritional and appetizing meal. Greg was able to interest Robert in eating again, which was the gateway to opening Robert to so much more. With only four hours of care a week, there was a lot that Greg could accomplish to help Robert during this challenging time.
The increased nutrition helped Robert gain strength, which meant that increasing his mobility was next on the list. While Robert was initially wary of a caregiver in his home, it turned out that Greg’s support made Robert more confident moving around. Greg noticed that Robert seemed to be scared to go outside and leave his home. He encouraged Robert to start small with short walks to gain strength, such as to his garden or mailbox. Robert loved being able to go out to his backyard and began to have more independence.
Robert enjoyed Greg’s company so much that he agreed to additional shifts until he used all his allotted hours. Surprisingly, Robert asked for more caregivers to visit him, so he could meet new people! This also relieved the burden of care on his son; they were able to spend quality time together instead of focusing only on care tasks.
“Robert started just going outside to look at the yard and is now able to work in the garden—one of his favorite things to do! When I met him, he was afraid to walk across the room. Now he is living his life again.”
Robert now has caregivers visit him six days a week, and he says it gives him a reason to get up in the morning to see his friends. He started making special trips outside the house, such as going to the grocery store, where he was able to pick out his food. Robert now enjoys picking up something new to try. He even helps prepare meals, which encourages him to eat more and continue to build his strength.
Robert transitioned from barely moving around the house to using a walker. He then gained the strength to use the walker only as a precaution. He stands up straight and is no longer shuffling when he walks. Every time he goes out for a walk or to his garden, he gets stronger.
All his plants and trees were planted together with his wife, so they are very special to him. During his most recent assessment, Robert sat outside with Senior Helpers staff, named the trees and bushes, and shared facts about each one. He gained weight and is a little tan from spending time outside. He is no longer frail, and his renewed confidence means that he now enjoys participating in conversations and can speak with strength.
At Susan’s recent visit with Robert, he said “You know, I think I got a couple more good years in me!” Robert is 92 and still going strong.
“I wish you could meet him, the glow on his face is priceless. He’s one of the happiest people I know,” Susan said. “His countenance is completely different. He smiles so much. His face just glows.”