Senior Care:Life’s Unexpected Journey

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elder Care: Life's Unexpected JourneyGeorge and Barbara Patterson moved into Foulkeways at Gwynedd Continuing Care Retirement Community in July of 2001.  They always knew they would retire there; Barbara’s mother and uncle had been residents, making her ‘second generation.’   They were still more than a year away from their move-in date when one, uneventful day in 2000, George decided it was time to put their house in Bergenfield, NJ on the market.  It sold in 10 days!

Barbara and George needed to find a place to live, quickly, and with help from the community’s admissions director, they found a lovely apartment in a nearby town.  “We decided to take advantage of all the benefits that come with being a Priority List member,” remembers Barbara.  “Our new apartment was only a few miles down the road, and from that day on, we practically lived at Foulkeways.  We ate meals there, exercised at the fitness center, swam in the pool, used their doctors and dentist, visited the hair salon, attended concerts, garden shows, and movies, and booked ourselves on trips.   We did everything but sleep there, and by the time we moved our furniture into our apartment there we knew hundreds of residents and staff members.


“I couldn’t wait to get settled, I wanted to try things I’d never tried before, and with 109 resident-sponsored  ‘committees’  (Quaker jargon for special interest groups)  I stayed so busy I realized that if I  wanted to experience ‘down time’  I’d have to go on vacation, somewhere away from Foulkeways!    We loved the idea that all of the committees are run by the residents, not by some concierge or activity director planning our days for us.  George found time to become immersed in basket weaving and over the years became an expert weaver.  He would spend hours in our apartment creating Nantucket, Appalachian and Shaker baskets.  After years of devoting seven- days-a-week, 24 hours-a-day to our orchid growing business in Bergenfield, George finally had the time to pursue his ever growing passion.   But you never know where life is going to take you.”


One year after moving to the community, George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  He was 73 and Barbara was 70.  “My nursing background helped me cope.  I read everything I could get my hands on to find out more about this disease that had forced itself into my world.  George was more stoic.  He was always the quiet one, so I became the liaison between George and his disease. 


“In February of 2008 George fell and broke his right hip.  When he was released from the hospital he spent five months in Gwynedd House (Foulkeways Skilled Nursing Care facility).  His recuperation was slowed by the ever increasing progression of his Parkinson’s, but he was determined to return to our apartment.  When he was finally released he needed a nightly medical procedure that had to be administered by a nurse.  Every night for the next two years, a Foulkeways nurse would arrive, just like clockwork.   We came to know every nurse on staff.  We would laugh, we would hug; they became a part of our family.  Parkinson’s was taking its toll and George stumbled often.  Staff members would have to be called to get him back on his feet or into bed.  He was 6’4″ and too heavy for me to handle alone.  They came whenever needed, and they came without fail…always happy to help, always unfailingly pleasant.  What ever would we have done had we not been here?  How would we have managed?


“George and I always knew that quality care and attention to personal dignity were paramount at this community.  We had watched the care given to both my mother and my uncle as they became more frail, but just like everyone else our age, we didn’t dwell on thoughts of what might happen to either of us as we aged; it’s just not something you spend a lot of time thinking about.  But the level of continuing care provided by Foulkeways is the reason we chose to retire here.  Before we moved in I researched their hospital affiliations and when I heard about the relationship that existed between the community and Abington Memorial Hospital, I felt a deep peace of mind.  


“In 2010, George fell again.  He broke his left hip and was taken by ambulance to Abington Memorial Hospital.   While in the Emergency Room he suffered a heart attack.   All the records the ER doctors needed had been sent with George when the Foulkeways staff readied him for his trip by ambulance.  Valuable time was saved because his medical history and innumerable test results and doctors visits were all readily available to the attending physicians.  The hospital’s Palliative Care Team arranged for a conference call for us with our son in Little Rock, Ark., our daughter in New Jersey and our grandchildren to discuss what needed to be done.  George was included in the decision-making process, just as he is always included at the community.  Ultimately we decided that the surgical team would first perform bypass surgery, and four days later, perform a second surgery to set his hip. 

 “Nowadays when folks ask George when he is coming back to our apartment, George tells them with a wry smile, that he guesses he’s a ‘lifer’ in Gwynedd House.   His Parkinson’s has progressed and he has a feeding tube from which he is slowly being weaned. He meets with a speech therapist three times a week, and the entire Foulkeways staff of doctors, nurses, aides, housekeepers, maintenance men, dieticians and administrators have become our ‘family.’  They care about George.  They care about me.  When I am with him, twice a day, I can feel the love they extend to both of us.  We hug, we laugh, we encourage one another, and we watch as George continues with quiet determination to cope with his disease. 


“I am always touched by the staff’s ability to do whatever needs to be done to insure his comfort and peace of mind.  George has had to be re-taught to walk and to eat, and through it all the staff has been 100 percent supportive.  They are truly family to me.  Gwynedd House is so unique.  Care is designed to support resident independence and personal dignity.  George is not rousted at a certain hour each morning to adhere to staffing requirements.  Rather, he wakes at his usual hour, and goes through his day much as he would in our apartment, only now he has the added assistance he needs.  I eat lunch and dinner with him every day, and I am made aware, anew, that at Foulkeways a person is not a number or a diagnosis.  The individual always comes first here, always! 

“Sometimes I wonder who will advocate for me, should something happen and I’m no longer able to care for myself.  I am George’s advocate, but who will be there for me?  Then I realize I live in a community where 400 residents and as many staff members care for each other and about each other, every single day.  I think it’s the reason the staff members rarely leave the community to take a job elsewhere.    We are a family…. a big, diverse, caring family.  The people at Foulkeways are beautiful, just beautiful, and I am truly blessed.”

Foulkeways at Gwynedd is the recipient of the 2010 Pathways to Greatness Award, given by Leading Age, formerly The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging and LarsonAllen, consultants to the industry.

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