Millie Loved Potato Chips

help for senior caregivers, affordable home care, at home caregivers, assisted home care, home help for the elderly, home care companines, in home care Minneapolis, senior home assistance, non medical senior careAt the end of her life, “Millie” had kidney failure as a result of her diabetes.  She eventually ended up in a nursing home even though, years before, she had made her kids promise to “never put her in a nursing home.”  Her kids did their best to keep her in her cute little two-bedroom brick house, but after numerous ins and outs of the hospital, Millie realized that she could no longer live at home and made the decision herself to move to the nursing home.

Millie settled into nursing home life and even had some great times with her extended family in the couple of years that she lived there.  Because they lived fairly close by, they visited often.  Millie and her family even celebrated major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving together in a large community room that could be reserved.  It accommodated all of Millie’s relatives, and the main meal was made by the nursing home staff.  Her granddaughters laughed when Millie would turn up her nose and tell stories about the woman with whom she shared her room, someone Millie had nicknamed “Clip-Clop” because of the noise the roommate made when walking.

The only apparent conflict Millie had with her family was around the issue of her diet.  Because of her kidney disease, she was on a salt restricted diet.  But, oh, Millie loved her potato chips!  Whenever one daughter would visit, she’d lecture Millie about her snacks.  Then when she’d leave, she’d take all of Millie’s chips with her.  Millie knew why her daughter didn’t want her eating them, but it never stopped her from stashing bags of potato chips in her nightstand.  Her daughter always confiscated them, and Millie always found a way to get more.

Sometimes, when we know that our elderly parents should not be eating potato chips, apple pie, or chocolate chip cookies because of their medical conditions, a good question to ask would be, “How does restricting their diet at the end stage of life improve quality of life?”  It seems to me that if a 39 cent package of potato chips would bring joy to an aging grandmother who is living out her last years in a nursing home, isn’t that a small price to pay?  By this point in time, we know that she will not live forever, so why not make the last months or years enjoyable (whatever that means for her)?

Granted, the story would be different if Millie was 45 years old with kidney disease and insisted on eating things she knew were restricted from her diet.  In that case, eating potato chips might even be seen as self-destructive behavior.  But at 86 years of age?

It’s a question those taking care of elderly parents might want to think about.

Julie Ellingson, LSW

February 28, 2013

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