For a lucky few, there was an adult-other than Mom and Dad-who
made their childhood special, for Amanda, her Aunt Anna was that
"It was always special when I got to spend time with Aunt
Annie," says Amanda of her mother's sister, who had no children of
her own. "As a child, I would visit her on weekends sometimes, and
we always had so much fun."
As Amanda grew into adulthood, she remained close to her
favorite aunt, visiting her as often as she could. The journey to
Anna's Massachusetts home wasn't easy, but Amanda knew that the
long trip from her home on Peaks Island, Maine, was worth every
During the Christmas season of 2004, Amanda made her usual trek
to her aunt's home, but this time, something didn't seem right.
Anna, now in her late seventies, was normally sociable and engaged,
but that day she seemed distant and forgetful. Perhaps the most
disturbing discovery for Amanda, however, was her aunt's physical
appearance. "Aunt Annie," she gasped. "You've lost a lot of
Unsure of what to do, Amanda drove home after the holidays, but
she couldn't help but feel terrified.What if Aunt Annie stops
eating?she thought.What if she can't call for elder care help?I was
worried she wasn't going to make it," she recalls. It was a
terrible feeling being so far away."
So, the next morning, Amanda drove back down to Massachusetts.
"I realized I needed to go back to get her some help," she says.
This time, she played detective-tactfully asking questions about
her aunt's health and surveying the home. As it turned out, bills
hadn't been paid, the phone company had sent a shut-off notice, and
the cat was missing.
"Where's the cat?" Amanda asked.
"It died," her aunt replied. Later, Amanda found the cat-indeed
dead-crammed into a plastic bag in the bathroom, next to a toilet
that had been plugged and left in disrepair for weeks.
Even more alarming was the state of Anna's nutrition. "I started
counting bananas," explains Amanda. "She said she ate one every
morning with breakfast, but I would bring five over on Monday, and
by Friday there were still five bananas on the counter."
Other people had been in her house, Amanda thought to herself,
why hadn't they noticed the smell, or been alerted to Aunt Annie's
health problems?"I wrestled with why nobody else was doing anything
to help her," she remembers. But there wasn't time to point
fingers; it was time for action. "Nobody else was stepping up, so I
did," she declares. "It was an
elder care emergency."
Even despite her aunt's protesting, Amanda encouraged her to see
a doctor. But when she arrived to pick her aunt up for the
appointment, she was met with anger and frustration. "What are you
doing?" Anna asked, with a horrified look on her face. "Are you
taking me to a nursing home?"
"No, I'm not taking you to a nursing home,"
Amanda reassured her. "But we have to talk about this. Someday
we'll all have to move away from our homes, even me, and we have to
talk about it because I don't know what you want."
"Well, I don't want to move," Anna replied emphatically, closing
the door to further discussion.
At the doctor's appointment, the physician examined the elderly
woman and decided that she was suffering from the early stages of
Alzheimer's disease. While her mind suffered, her body wasn't
much better off. "Her teeth were in terrible shape," says Amanda.
"They were smelly and infected." As a result, the doctor encouraged
her to have a dentist remove her teeth, and he warned her, "If you
lose any more weight, you'll need to be hospitalized."
Amanda knew there was a tough decision ahead. "I realized she
needed to leave her home," she says. Prepared for a protest, Amanda
called the local police department and spoke to an elder affairs
officer. "I wanted to know what my rights were and what hers were,"
she explains. "If she didn't want to move, I wasn't sure what I was
going to do. I thought maybe she would cooperate with someone in a
But in the end, that kind of tough love wasn't necessary. "You
took care of me when I was little, Aunt Annie, and now it's my turn
to look out for you," Amanda explained. "I just want you to be in a
safe, healthy environment." To her surprise, Anna agreed to move
into an assisted
living facility after her teeth-removal surgery.
While half the battle was over, Amanda was now faced with the
challenge of finding the right home for her aunt. A Meals on Wheels
employee who brought periodic meals to Anna's home told Amanda
about the kind of elder care help offered by A Place for Mom.
Shortly after, she connected with A Place for
Mom Senior Living Advisor Donna Bruno.
"At first I was skeptical," recalls Amanda. For so long she had
been managing her aunt's needs on her own. Could she trust this
person to help her find the right home for Anna? she wondered.
"Amanda was hesitant because she did not know what we were all
about," Donna remembers. "I explained our elder care referral
service to her and did not push her, just offered to help. Amanda's
situation was difficult because she lives in Maine, and her aunt
was in Massachusetts. We decided to look at all communities close
to the highway between the two locations. I also chose properties
that would meet her aunt's clinical needs."
Amanda toured the facilities, and settled on one, Hearthstone-a
small, 21-bed assisted living
facility that specialized in Alzheimer's patients.
Donna says that seeing a concerned family member through the
initial skepticism, worry, and fear is what makes her job so
rewarding. "This was a great example of a very hesitant family with
a very real need," she notes. "With a little patience and
perseverance, I was able to help them find a solution."
"I felt like I could call Donna and share any issues I had, and
she would point me in the right direction," Amanda says. "It was
great to have that kind of help."
After moving into her new residence, Anna's health has made
significant progress, along with her quality of life. "She's gained
weight, she jokes with the residents and staff, and she is no
longer sitting at home and moping around the house," Amanda
Looking back, Amanda believes Anna's come a long way. "I used to
cry on my way home from visiting my aunt," she says. "I thought I
was losing her. She was changing, and I knew what we were coming
to." But thanks to a determined spirit-and elder care help from A
Place for Mom- she says the outcome has been better than
Today, Amanda offers advice to others in similar situations,
whether caring for a parent or other loved one. "Just jump in," she
says. "Once you do, the pieces just fall together. I couldn't have
lived with myself if something happened to my aunt. It may be
scary, but you just have to do it. And there are people out there
who can help."