An 85-year-old widow living alone can be amazingly self-sufficient. That truth enlightened me over a decade ago, when an isolated storm cut power to half the houses on my mother's street. For the better part of three days, no electricity reached her home.
My two sisters and I didn't hear about the outage until it had ended, since none of us lived nearby and the storm hadn't been anticipated. True to Mom's nature when something like this happened, she kept it quiet, not wanting to cause worry or, in her words, “be a bother." Subconsciously, she also may have held back to avoid challenges to living on her own in a big house.
Thankfully, she persevered without a hitch by carefully navigating around obstacles and stairways in her brick bi-level's interior. She kept the refrigerator closed to save perishables and lit a little-used gas fireplace for heat at night. Concerned neighbors across the street helped, too, by checking in on her.
In retrospect, a lot could have gone wrong — from a fall in the dark to missed meals to illness brought on by exposure to cold. Instead, Mom added a new chapter to family lore, handing down an unspoken lesson on making the best of any given situation.
Planning for the Unexpected
The takeaway from this anecdote is that, despite all good intentions, family caregivers can't predict every scenario an independent senior may encounter.
In our case, even though U.S. power grid disruptions have roughly doubled every five years dating back to 2000, that factor didn't immediately come to mind when we were planning and coordinating Mom's care. We were more concerned with everyday pursuits, like household upkeep and proximity to friends, activities, stores and church. Still, as we found out, a blackout can instantaneously become an overriding, potentially hazardous disrupter.
If we were caring for Mom today, things would be different.
She was always interested in new ways to stay in touch with family, so I think she would have welcomed the idea of carrying a smartphone or cell phone, especially models designed for ease of use with large screens and buttons.
And since my father wore a medical alert medallion in his later life, she would have considered following suit with a modernized version such as the Lively Mobile device. She'd know that, in case of emergency, she'd be able to reach professional help at the push of a button. (The discreet design would have appealed to her polished sense of style, too.)
On the caregiver side, we'd rest easier having access to a smartphone app to enable receipt of emergency alerts, check on changes in Mom's daily activity or pose simple yes-or-no questions such as, “Did you take your medication this afternoon?"
A Life Well-Lived
Not long after the episode described here, Mom transitioned to assisted living, where she largely stayed active until passing at age 93. In honor of Mother's Day, we pay tribute to her selfless attitude in hopes that her story may encourage family caregivers to do their best in sustaining healthy and safe senior independence.